Amazon’s Uneven Playing Field

by Olivia LaVecchia | October 20, 2017 11:05 am

Amazon is looking for a big subsidy to build its new headquarters. It’s only the latest move in the company’s long history of using the government to get favors that other businesses can’t.

This op-ed was first published in Vice’s Motherboard[1].

In the hierarchy of the corporate world today, Amazon is near the top. It’s one of the top five most valuable companies traded on the major exchanges, and founder and CEO Jeff Bezos is now the second-richest person in the world.

People tend to think that Amazon has gotten there simply by out-competing everyone else. But there’s another part of the story[2] of Amazon’s rise. From the very beginning, a core part of Amazon’s strategy has been taking advantage of public benefits not available to its competitors.

Now, bidding is set to close Thursday on the latest play in this strategy: Amazon’s decision to launch a public auction for the location of its second North American headquarters. In that auction, Amazon is angling for such a substantial public handout that, as Amazon itself puts it[3] in its Request for Proposals, the “magnitude may require special incentive legislation.” Since Amazon opened bidding, more than 100 cities across the U.S. and Canada have publicly announced their interest in the Amazon sweepstakes, and have given over conference rooms[4] and staff time to work on the bid, launched PR stunts, and started hashtags. Experts say that the end result of all of this hype could be a multi-billion dollar giveaway[5] from taxpayers to Amazon.

The process has unfolded like the work of a seasoned pro, and that’s because it is. It started back in 1995… (more…)[6]

  1. Motherboard:
  2. another part of the story:
  3. puts it:
  4. given over conference rooms:
  5. multi-billion dollar giveaway:
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San Francisco Breaks the Chain Stores, Strengthens Neighborhood Economies – Episode 31 of the Building Local Power Podcast

by Nick Stumo-Langer | October 19, 2017 12:00 pm

San Francisco has one-third as many chain stores as the national average. That’s thanks in large part to a city ordinance[1] that restricts “formula” businesses. Enacted in 2004, and expanded in 2006 and 2014 (with input from ILSR), the policy permits formula businesses to locate in the city’s neighborhood business districts only if they pass a special review.  The policy works to promote commercial diversity, and along the way, it’s also given citizens more of a role in shaping their neighborhood,

Our guest, AnMarie Rodgers[2], has played a key role in implementing the policy. She is the Senior Policy Advisor for the City of San Francisco’s Planning Department. As she explains in this episode, the staff members of the city’s planning department were not enthusiastic about the ordinance when it first passed, but as they’ve implemented it and studied its results, they’ve become believers in its value.

In this episode of the Building Local Power[3] podcast, ILSR Co-director Stacy Mitchell[4] and ILSR researcher Olivia LaVecchia[5] talk with Rodgers about the history of the policy and how well it works, and what advice she has for other cities who want to do it too.

The trio delve deep into what qualifies as a chain store under the formula business restriction policy. It includes two of these criteria: signage, merchandise, logo, and architectural similarities and having eleven total locations. They also discuss how this neighborhood-by-neighborhood approach allows citizens to determine their own future and prioritize equity and affordability.

“Part of doing business in San Francisco is that a chain store needs to prove it’s a good fit for the neighborhood and they cannot take that for granted anymore,” says AnMarie Rodgers[2], Senior Policy Adviser for the City of San Francisco.


Like this episode? Please help us reach a wider audience by rating[11] Building Local Power on iTunes[12] or wherever you find your podcasts. And please become a subscriber!

If you have show ideas or comments, please email us at[13]. Also, join the conversation by talking about #BuildingLocalPower[14] on Twitter and Facebook!

Click here for a full transcript[15] of this podcast conversation.

Related Resources:

ILSR Rule Archive: Formula Business Restriction – San Francisco, CA[16] — This post from ILSR’s rules archive sets out the formula business restriction policy and details how the policy benefits the local neighborhood economy.

How San Francisco is Dealing With Chains[17] — This post from ILSR’s Stacy Mitchell tells the story of the formula business restriction policy in San Francisco and the history about how it came about, building equitable and local economies.

Formula Business Restrictions[18] — An overview of this type of policy, include examples of other cities, besides San Francisco, that have adopted it.

Report: Monopoly Power and the Decline of Small Business[19] — This report from ILSR’s Stacy Mitchell details how the United States is much less a nation of entrepreneurs than it was a generation ago. This report suggests that the decline of small businesses is owed, at least in part, to anticompetitive behavior by large, dominant corporations.

What Neighborhood Retail Gets Right – Episode 27 of the Building Local Power Podcast[20] — This podcast between ILSR’s Stacy Mitchell and Washington D.C.-based founder of several Ace Hardware stores detail the power of neighborhood retail and the ways her stores are faring in the age of big-box retail and Amazon.


  1. city ordinance:
  2. AnMarie Rodgers:
  3. Building Local Power:
  4. Stacy Mitchell:
  5. Olivia LaVecchia:
  6. [Image]:
  7. Play in new window:
  8. Download:
  9. Android:
  10. RSS:
  11. rating:
  12. iTunes:
  14. #BuildingLocalPower:
  15. full transcript: #transcript
  16. ILSR Rule Archive: Formula Business Restriction – San Francisco, CA:
  17. How San Francisco is Dealing With Chains:
  18. Formula Business Restrictions:
  19. Report: Monopoly Power and the Decline of Small Business:
  20. What Neighborhood Retail Gets Right – Episode 27 of the Building Local Power Podcast:
  21. (more…):

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Eastern Tennessee: Newport Electric Smart Grid, Morristown Tech Incubator

by Matthew Marcus | October 17, 2017 5:59 am

Approximately 30 miles separate Morristown and Newport, but the two are joining forces to better connect local businesses and residents as entrepreneurs take up residence in the region’s newest high-tech work space.

An Incubator for Innovation in Morristown

SkyMart Venture Place is a new cooperative workspace stirring innovation in the quaint downtown district of Morristown.

Morristown was on the forefront of implementing city-wide Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) back in 2006. Today their gigabit network MUS FiberNET[1] is fostering innovation in this thriving co-working space and helping neighboring communities bridge their connectivity gaps. Lynn Wolfe explains that the new space has helped support her in the early stages of her business. “[SkyMVP] gives me a place—with super-fast internet—to come and do my internet marketing, and it has been very beneficial for that and being able to upload my training videos,” Wolfe said.

SkyMVP’s doors opened in August of last year and it’s become a hub for local entrepreneurs. The space allows members to hold workshops, rent office space, and network with other professionals.

Similar incubator projects are underway in Virginia’s Roanoke Valley[2] and Indianola, Iowa[3]. SkyMVP is yet another example of how gigabit connectivity can spur positive transformations[4] for local communities. Morristown’s decision to invest in FTTH infrastructure is emboldening their local economy [5]and potential for small business growth in the area is promising. Sky MVP has even begun offering a course for budding entrepreneurs[6] and a handful of free workshops.

Expanding the ‘Net’ in Newport

Morristown’s leap in connectivity is spreading. Morristown Utility Commission (MUC) is partnering with Newport Utilities (NU)[7] to expand Internet connectivity in the region. MUC and Newport officially announced a 7-year contract in which MUC will supply NU wholesale Internet access and third-party Voice over IP services.

As part of a smart grid project, Newport is able to capitalize on their proximity and relationship with Morristown and bring better connectivity to residents, businesses, and other entities. The initial stages of laying 13 miles of the community-owned Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) networks is underway and Newport residents expect to start obtaining services from NU Connect[8] by January 1st.

logo-newport-utilities-tn.gifThis is an exciting development for building local power and expanding connectivity, but it also has the potential to become a model for other similarly situated communities. The agreement has allowed Newport to improve its local telecommunications at a cheaper cost than if it had to deploy the project from the ground up. Inline with other FTTH communities in Tennessee[9], Newport Utilities plans to offer a affordable monthly plan[10]; $40 per month for 100 Megabits per second (Mbps) and gigabit access is available for $100 per month. All speeds are symmetrical.

Newport recently received a $21 million loan[11] from the USDA Rural Utilities Service (RUS) to expand their smart grid project, which will allow them to bring high-quality connectivity to their entire service area. The smart grid applications will also allow NU to maximize the electric system’s efficiencies and reduce outages. They anticipate construction to be completed during 2018.

This article was originally published on ILSR’s[12]. Read the original here[13].

  1. gigabit network MUS FiberNET:
  2. Virginia’s Roanoke Valley:
  3. Indianola, Iowa:
  4. spur positive transformations:
  5. emboldening their local economy :
  6. a course for budding entrepreneurs:
  7. partnering with Newport Utilities (NU):
  8. obtaining services from NU Connect:
  9. FTTH communities in Tennessee:
  10. affordable monthly plan:
  11. received a $21 million loan:
  13. here:

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Anti-Municipal Broadband Bill In Michigan Pulls No Punches

by Lisa Gonzalez | October 16, 2017 9:05 am

Torpedo legislation aimed at municipal network initiatives don’t usually appear in October, but Michigan’s year-round legislature is making 2017 atypical. Last week, Freshman Representative Michele Hoitenga from the rural village of Manton in Wexford County introduced a bill banning investment in municipal networks.

HB 5099[1] is short; it decrees that local communities cannot use federal, state, or their own funds to invest in even the slowest Internet infrastructure, if they choose to do it themselves:



The exception allows local communities to engage in public-private partnerships, but the bill’s ambiguous language is likely to discourage local communities from pursuing such partnerships. As we’ve seen from partnerships that have successfully brought better connectivity to towns such as Westminster, Maryland[2], communities often took the initiative to invest in the infrastructure prior to establishing a partnership. Typically, the infrastructure attracts a private sector partner. If a community in Michigan wants to pursue a partnership that suits the exception of HB 5099, they will first have to grapple with the chicken and the egg dilemma.

Rather than put themselves at risk of running afoul of the law, prudent community leaders would probably choose to avoid pursuing any publicly owned infrastructure initiatives.


Munis Gaining Ground In Michigan

seal-michigan.pngMichigan already has a significant state barrier in place; municipalities that wish to improve connectivity must first appeal to the private sector and can only invest in a network if they receive fewer than three qualifying bids. If a local community then goes on to build a publicly owned network, they must comply with the terms of the RFP, even though terms for a private sector vendor may not be ideal for a public entity.

Nevertheless, several communities in Michigan have dealt with the restrictions in recent years as a way to ameliorate poor connectivity. They’ve come to realize that their local economies and the livelihood of their towns depend on improving Internet access for businesses, institutions, and residents.


  1. HB 5099:
  2. Westminster, Maryland:
  3. (more…):

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Mount Washington, Massachusetts, Set To Debut New FTTH Network

by Christopher Barich | October 12, 2017 6:01 am

Mount Washington, Massachusetts[1], is set to light up its new Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) network this month. By “building our own Fiber-to-the-Home broadband network, we are taking an important step in securing our community’s long-term vitality and sustainability,” says Selectboard Member Gail Garrett[2].

Mount Washington Recap

Mount Washington is nestled within the forested Taconic Mountains area located in the southwest corner of the state. The roughly 150 full-time residents have been frustrated with the lack of connectivity. “Everybody’s had it with their current connections” said Garret and believes the town “deserves the same opportunity to connect to the internet as those in larger communities.”

The final estimates for the network came in at $603,000 but the town planned for any unanticipated make ready or dig costs and prepared for a high estimate of $650,000. To fund construction, Mount Washington authorized the use[3] of $250,000 from their stabilization fund in 2015, received $230,000 in federal and state funds[4] from the Massachusetts Broadband Institute (MBI) earlier this year, and established a plan to borrow the remaining $400,000 through a state loan program. This spring, received an additional $222,000 grant from the Executive Office of Housing and Economic Development[5], which will allow them to pay down the debt sooner and have the network paid off within five years.

The FTTH network is set to provide residents who opted in, over 60 percent of the town, with up to 1 gigabit of upload and download speeds. To opt in, residents deposited $300 per household and committed themselves to three years of data and telephone service on the FTTH network. (more…)[6]

  1. Mount Washington, Massachusetts:
  2. says Selectboard Member Gail Garrett:
  3. authorized the use:
  4. in federal and state funds:
  5. Executive Office of Housing and Economic Development:
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Franklin County Infrastructure Bank to Invest in Grove City, Ohio’s Fiber Network

by Christopher Barich | October 10, 2017 7:09 am

On August 1, 2017, the Franklin County Infrastructure Bank awarded Grove City, Ohio a $2 million loan to support their construction of a municipal fiber optic network.

The Grove City Plan

According to the city’s Request for Proposal[1] (RFP), the city is focused on first establishing an institutional network[2] (I-Net) and plan to expand it to serve local businesses over time. The initial fiber optic network will connect Grove City to the South-Western City Schools, the townships of Jackson, Prairie, Pleasant, and the Solid Waste Authority of Central Ohio (SWACO). The goal is to create a network with a baseline of ten gigabits symmetric service, ten times the speed of current connections provided by Spectrum[3] (formerly Time Warner Cable).

According to Mayor Richard “Ike” Stage[4], the increase in network speed will attract businesses and will generate a 100 new jobs for the city. Josh Roth, Senior Program Coordinator for Economic Development and Planning, has said[5] “that Grove City has committed to one hundred jobs over the next three years.”

During the August 1, 2017 general session, the Franklin County Board of Commissioners  passed the resolution[6] to authorize the loan to the city of Grove City.

Franklin County Commissioner Kevin L. Boyce celebrated the project[7]:

“[T]he fiber optics really makes a difference because companies will look at whether to expand or move there [Grove City]. It could be a deciding factor. Those are jobs that are retained that you may not see.”

For more information on the positive relationship between publicly owned Internet network infrastructure and reyaining or attracting jobs, check out our economic development[8] page.

In addition to the FCIB loan, the city authorized a $4.8 million bond issue for the design and construction of the network. South-Western City Schools, Jackson, Prairie, Pleasant, and SWACO will all pay an annual fee to connect to the network; that revenue will be used to pay off the bond. An October 2016 Grove City Dispatch article[9] reported that the South-Western City School District will increase their capacity 10-fold, but continue to pay the same rate they currently pay the incumbent. Now public dollars will stay in the region to be reinvested in the local community.

The project hit a snag earlier this summer when community leaders had to contend with unanticipated make ready costs[10]. Final fees determined by electric provider American Electric Power and AT&T were much higher than original estimates. The City Council chose to appropriate an additional $2.7 million[11] from the the city’s general fund to cover the costs and proceed with the fiber optic project.

Grove City, Ohio[12] is located in Franklin County, just 20 minutes southwest from downtown Columbus. The city covers approximately 16 square miles with a population of roughly 38,000. (more…)[13]

  1. Request for Proposal:
  2. institutional network:
  3. current connections provided by Spectrum:
  4. Mayor Richard “Ike” Stage:
  5. Josh Roth, Senior Program Coordinator for Economic Development and Planning, has said:
  6. passed the resolution:
  7. Kevin L. Boyce celebrated the project:
  8. economic development:
  9. October 2016 Grove City Dispatch article:
  10. unanticipated make ready costs:
  11. appropriate an additional $2.7 million:
  12. Grove City, Ohio:
  13. (more…):

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Couldn’t Make It To Ammon, Idaho? Christopher Mitchell’s Presentation Featured in Videos

by Lisa Gonzalez | October 9, 2017 5:41 am

You may not have been able to get to Ammon, Idaho, to attend the official lighting ceremony[1] of the community’s open access fiber network. Perhaps you weren’t able to watch the stream to the event either; life is demanding and sometimes we just can’t fit everything into our day. But you can still watch the event at your own pace because we’ve broken down the presentations and panels for you.

Deb Socia (NCC) & Jeff Christensen (EntryPoint) Introduce Ammon Mayor Dana Kirkham:[2]

Mayor Dana Kirkham:[3]

State Senator Brent Hill:[4]


Keynote: How Does the City of Tomorrow Get ‘Smart’?

Glenn Ricart, Founder and CEO, US Ignite:[5]

Panel – How do we make ‘smart cities’ a reality?


Bobbi-Jo Meuleman, Chief Operations Officer, Idaho Department of Commerce:[7]


  1. attend the official lighting ceremony:
  8. (more…):

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Fiber for Key Industrial Areas Coming to Somerset County, Pennsylvania

by Lisa Gonzalez | October 6, 2017 6:47 am

Over the past several decades, the population of Somerset County, Pennsylvania[1], has incrementally jumped up and down, but today’s population is the same as it was in 1960. In order to boost economic development and encourage growth with more jobs, community leaders are deploying fiber for better connectivity in several industrial areas.

Financial Help For Fiber Connectivity

In May, U.S. Department of Commerce’s Economic Development Administration (EDA) announced that they would provide[2] a $569,000 grant to the county to help fund the project. The EDA consider the project worth while because they expect the project to retain 20 existing jobs, generate 42 new jobs, and stimulate $25 million in private investment.

County officials intend to combine the EDA grant with an additional grant they received in January from the Appalachian Regional Commission. The ARC grant of almost $949,000 will allow Somerset County to dedicate approximately $1.5 million to run fiber four industrial parks. The County will match the grant award in order to fully fund the 22-mile network, which will expand existing Somerset County fiber infrastructure. View a map of the proposed expansion here[3].

Lack Of Meaningful Connectivity In Rural Pennsylvania

Recently, the County Board of Commissioners approved a contract with a firm[4] to oversee the project. Long-term goals are to improve connectivity for approximately 1,100 businesses and 3,900 households along with local community anchor institutions (CAIs) and other entities. Approximately 18 percent of the people in Somerset don’t have broadband as defined by the FCC (25 megabits per second (Mbps) download and 3 Mbps upload) according to Form 477 data. The number is likely much higher, however, because Form 477 data tends to overstate coverage, especially in rural areas. Shortly after the county received the EDA award, two local Internet service providers expressed interest in delivering services via the new infrastructure.

The largest community is the county seat of Somerset with approximately 6,200 residents. The remaining boroughs and census-designated places vary in population from about 4,000 to less than 30. There are approximately 77,400 people scattered over the county’s 1,081 square miles along Pennsylvania’s southern border. Like many other rural areas, Somerset county’s low population density and widely dispersed population centers don’t appeal to national ISPs; they view such an environment as not worth investment. (more…)[5]

  1. Somerset County, Pennsylvania:
  2. announced that they would provide:
  3. map of the proposed expansion here:
  4. approved a contract with a firm:
  5. (more…):

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Beating the Monopolies: Barry Lynn Explains How We Will Win – Episode 30 of the Building Local Power Podcast

by Nick Stumo-Langer | October 5, 2017 12:00 pm

Barry Lynn, head of the Open Markets Institute[1], has some good news for those concerned about concentrated corporate power and the implications for our livelihoods and our democracy: “We will win”.

In this episode of the Building Local Power[2] podcast, ILSR Co-director Stacy Mitchell[3] interviews Lynn about the changes in policy that gave rise to today’s monopolies, including the tech super-giants — Google, Facebook, and Amazon. And they talk about how a new movement to break up these monopolies is fast gaining momentum.

We let this episode run long, because there’s a lot to discuss. Mitchell and Lynn delve deep into the history of anti-monopoly policy in the United States, including the changes in antitrust enforcement in the 1980s that brought us to where we are today. And then they talk about where we go from here. Lynn outlines a one-two punch for wresting our country back from monopoly control: 1) We must see ourselves and assert our identity as citizens and not as consumers, and 2) We must talk about concentrated power and encourage our community leaders and elected officials to do the same.

The Open Markets Institute[1]‘s Barry Lynn visits ILSR’s Washington D.C. office to record this episode of the Building Local Power podcast.

“We are going to win. We are going to break up Google, Facebook, and Amazon. We are going to take on these other powers. The issue at this point is not, ‘Are we going to do it? Can we do it?’ We are going to do it,” says Barry Lynn of our current moment of reckoning.

He continues: “It’s just a matter of when and how. The American people, when they wake up, when they see the problem in front of their face, when they see that fist that is balled right there, we have awesome capacities to respond. Working together, just using our common sense, because that’s all we need to beat these people with their ideologies, just our common sense and our ability to see the facts before us. At this moment of despair, when people see these awesome concentrations of power, the most important step we have taken it, and that is to recognize the problem.”


Like this episode? Please help us reach a wider audience by rating[9] Building Local Power on iTunes[10] or wherever you find your podcasts. And please become a subscriber! (more…)[11]

  1. Open Markets Institute:
  2. Building Local Power:
  3. Stacy Mitchell:
  4. [Image]:
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Lessons Learned: “Not Feasible” Could Reflect Consultant, Not Your Community Network

by Christopher | October 3, 2017 5:03 am

To be fair, “not feasible” could also mean that you are asking the wrong questions. Nothing rules out that the problem lies with both the consultant AND the questions. It’s hard to tell from the outside which of these factors dominates.

An Incomplete Path

For years, Iowa’s Decorah has been considering a municipal fiber network and local folks have been educating people on the possibilities. With so many other communities in Iowa moving forward successfully with projects, one would have thought Decorah might snag one of the consultants involved in those. It went instead with Uptown Services.

We generally don’t name consultants unless we feel compelled to on this site but Uptown Services was also the consultant the last time I saw such a poor feasibility that I couldn’t avoid writing about it[1] – in Hillsboro, Oregon. They were also the consultant for Provo, Utah; Alameda, California; Salisbury, North Carolina; and other networks that have encountered significant challenges in their business plans. We don’t know what role, if any, the consultants played in their struggles and, to be fair, Uptown Services has contracted with networks that have avoided any serious pitfalls.

I have no way of evaluating the many services they provide, but I can say that cities looking for feasibility analysis and early guidance in how to improve Internet access in a community should carefully consider their track record.

What upsets me is not that Uptown told Hillsboro and Decorah that a bond-financed rapid-deployment of citywide FTTH was too risky in their analysis. That may or may not be correct – and I deeply respect consultants that are willing to tell clients what they do not want to hear. The problem is that a consultant’s job should not be to say “yeah” or “nay” for one particular approach but rather to guide a community along a feasible path of improving Internet access.

logo-decorah-iowa.pngWe have seen examples of communities where they found building a citywide fiber network at once to be too risky for their appetite. Rather than giving up and foregoing the essential benefits of high-quality Internet access in the modern era, they set about building an incremental or phased approach. See our interviews with Auburn, Indiana[2] and Erwin, Tennessee[3] for two solid examples. (more…)[4]

  1. couldn’t avoid writing about it:
  2. Auburn, Indiana:
  3. Erwin, Tennessee:
  4. (more…):

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Fort Collins, Colo. Municipal Utility Ballot Language Lives Through Legal Challenge

by Matthew Marcus | October 2, 2017 5:46 am

The Fort Collins’ ballot measure that could amend the City Charter allowing high-speed Internet to become a municipal utility moves forward after a short legal scuffle. The question will be decided at the November 7th special election.

Failed Legal Petition

After the language of the ballot question was released following approval by City Hall, local activist Eric Sutherland filed a petition with Larimer County. Sutherland — well known for his numerous petitions wagered against the city, county and school district[1]— claimed that the language “failed to consider the public confusion that might be caused by misleading language”. Sutherland also insisted the proposed City Charter Amendment isn’t legal under the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights (TABOR)[2] amendment to the State Constitution. TABOR requires local governments to get voter approval to raise tax rates or spend revenue collected under existing tax rates.

Attorneys representing the city of Fort Collins rejected Sutherland’s claims[3] and maintained that the amendment isn’t covered by TABOR. A utility does not require voter approval to issue debt because it is legally defined as an enterprise, a government-owned business. Moreover, Fort Collins Chief Financial Officer Mike Beckstead testified[4] that the bonds would be backed by utility ratepayers, not tax revenue. City Council explained in a statement that they included the $150 million-dollar figure in the ballot language in an effort to maintain transparency and show the level of commitment a broadband utility could require from the municipality. By including the dollar amount in the ballot language, the Charter would also establish a limit on any debt.

District Court Judge Thomas French issued his ruling[5] on Sept. 4th, dismissing Sutherland’s arguments regarding TABOR and explained that “there are no legal grounds to cause the submission clause to be rewritten” and finally that “the intention behind the charter amendment is not to create debt but to authorize the council to approve a new utility.” The proposed amendment will proceed as planned, narrowly making the county’s Sept. 8th deadline for certifying the November ballot.

Ballot Question 2B[6], to be decided at the November 7th special election, asks:

City-Initiated Proposed Charter Amendment No. 1

Shall Article XII of the City of Fort Collins Charter be amended to allow, but not require, City Council to authorize, by ordinance and without a vote of the electors, the City’s electric utility or a separate telecommunications utility to provide telecommunication facilities and services, including the transmission of voice, data, graphics and video using broadband Internet facilities, to customers within and outside Fort Collins, whether directly or in whole or part through one or more third-party providers, and in exercising this authority, to: (1) issue securities and other debt, but in a total amount not to exceed $150,000,000; (2) set the customer charges for these facilities and services subject to the limitations in the Charter required for setting the customer charges of other City utilities; (3) go into executive session to consider matters pertaining to issues of competition in providing these facilities and services; (4) establish and delegate to a Council-appointed board or commission some or all of the Council’s governing authority and powers granted in this Charter amendment, but not the power to issue securities and other debt; and (5) delegate to the City Manager some or all of Council’s authority to set customer charges for telecommunication facilities and services?

Options for the Community

Almost two years ago, Fort Collins and 46 other cities and counties[7] voted to repeal SB 152, a 2005 law[8] that barred local authorities from offering Internet service themselves or with a private sector partner. Fort Collins is a thriving tech town, home to approximately 160,000 residents and the University of Colorado, but like so many towns, they’ve been relegated to a couple mediocre options for cable and DSL service.

logo-nextlight-lpc.pngWith this proposed amendment to the City Charter, Fort Collins is considering different connectivity models. A public-private partnership isn’t off the table but they’ve been gleaning insights from their neighbor Longmont[9], who’s begun offering gigabit connectivity[10] through their NextLight community-owned network[11].

Over the past few years, support from the community for reclaiming local telecommunications authority has grown in Fort Collins and all over the state. Voters in approximately 100 towns and counties have chosen to opt out of SB 152; more communities will raise the issue this fall[12]. Some communities have taken steps to improve local connectivity but many appear to be satisfied to have preserved the option. Loveland issued an RFP for a gigabit network earlier this month and Estes Park is in the engineering phase of their project.

Fort Collins had a tentative public-private partnership in its sight a few years back, but the project never moved past early discussions. This vote will give the city the option[13] to implement its own municipal telecommunications utility. The local debate over the high-speed Internet initiative is ongoing.

Further Deliberation

Last Thursday Colorado State University hosted a panel discussion[14] where both sides of the debate voiced their opinions regarding the nuances of the proposed plans. Following a presentation by Tim Tillson from the Fort Collins Citizen Broadband Committee, Vice President of IT at CSU, Patrick Burns, gave a poignant firsthand perspective as to why the innovation is needed:

“I think there’s a real need for this, for us and our residents and our homes. And there’s a real need for our businesses. I have businesses coming and knocking on my door, and they do this every year, and they say we’ve got these giant data sets and we can’t get enough Internet capacity bought from anybody to upload these giant data sets. ‘You’re connected to Internet, too, aren’t you CSU? Let us just put them on your servers and then we can upload them.’ But we can’t do that because we’re not allowed to compete with the private sector.”

This article was originally published on ILSR’s[15]. Read the original here[16].

  1. numerous petitions wagered against the city, county and school district:
  2. Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights (TABOR):
  3. rejected Sutherland’s claims:
  4. Chief Financial Officer Mike Beckstead testified:
  5. issued his ruling:
  6. Ballot Question 2B:
  7. 46 other cities and counties:
  8. 2005 law:$FILE/152_enr.pdf
  9. Longmont:
  10. offering gigabit connectivity:
  11. NextLight community-owned network:
  12. will raise the issue this fall:
  13. give the city the option:
  14. panel discussion:
  16. here:

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California Lawmakers Vote Against Rural Constituents for High-Quality Broadband Access

by Lisa Gonzalez | September 29, 2017 6:46 am

California Legislators have turned on their constituents living in rural areas who want to participate in the 21st century online economy. What began as a move in the right direction – allocating substantial resources to funding high-speed Internet infrastructure – has become another opportunity to protect big incumbents. It’s twice as nice for Frontier and AT&T, because they will be paid big bucks to meet a low Internet access bar.

Discretionary Fund

Democrat Eduardo Garcia, the main author on Assembly Bill 1665, represents the Coachella Valley, a rural area in the southern area of the state near Palm Springs. Democrat Jim Wood coauthored with eight others. Wood represents coastal areas in the northern part of the state, which was passed during the eleventh hour of the 2017 legislative session. Wood’s district and region has obtained several grants from the California Advanced Services Fund (CASF) that have helped to improve local connectivity.

The CASF is much like CAF; both programs are funded through a surcharge on revenue collected by telecommunications carriers from subscribers. Since 2007, when California authorized the CASF, the legislature has amended the rules and requirements several times. Early on, CASF awards went primarily to smaller, local companies because large corporations such as AT&T and Frontier did not pursue the grants. Now that those behemoths have their eyes on CASF grants, they’ve found a way to push out the companies who need the funds and have shown that they want to provide better services to rural Californians.

AB 1665 allocates $300 million to Internet infrastructure investment and an additional $30 million to adoption and related local programs. Policy experts have criticized the legislation on several fronts. Consultant Steve Blum told CVIndependent[1]:

The incumbents (large corporate ISPs) including AT&T, Frontier and the California Cable and Telecommunications Association jumped in and said, ‘We want the bill to be X, Y and Z.’ … Assemblymember Eduardo Garcia took it and started adding language that reflected the desires of these cable and telephone company incumbents.

“The bill went through three revisions, and each time, more perks were added for the incumbents. So as it’s written now, AB 1665 is going to put $300 million into a CASF infrastructure grant account and make it virtually impossible for independent projects to be funded. Essentially, then, it becomes a fund for AT&T and Frontier to use at their discretion.”


  1. Steve Blum told CVIndependent:
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ILSR Sponsors the 5th National Cultivating Community Composting Forum, Scholarship Fund Announced

by Brenda Platt | September 27, 2017 4:31 pm

placeholderIn collaboration with the US Composting Council (USCC) and BioCycle[1], the Institute for Local Self-Reliance announces two events to be held in conjunction with the USCC’s International Conference and Trade Show, COMPOST2018[2], in Atlanta:

Best Practices in Community Composting Workshop
Monday, January 22, 2018


Cultivating Community Composting Forum 2018
Tuesday, January 23, 2018

These events will bring together composters to network, share best practices, and build support for community-scale composting systems and enterprises. The Cultivating Community Composting Forum 2018 is the 5th national forum sponsored by the Institute for Local Self-Reliance and BioCycle. Check out last year’s event here[3].

Interested in sponsoring, exhibiting, or contributing to our scholarship fund? Click HERE[4]. Any amount is welcome!


Community composters, we invite your participation and input on the agenda! What topics or experts would you most like to hear from? Are you interested in presenting? What are your biggest challenges?

Limited scholarships are available to community composters! Apply by Tuesday, October 17. We have scholarships up to $500 to help offset COMPOST2018 registration fees, and travel and hotel costs. A limited number of community composters are also eligible to receive a waived registration fee (a $375 value) with a commitment to volunteer 8 hours at the COMPOST2018 conference.




  1. BioCycle:
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PURPA: A Quiet Death or Longer Life After 40 Years of Wholesale Electricity Competition?

by John Farrell | September 27, 2017 12:29 pm

This article was originally published in Greentech Media[1] on September 18th, 2017.

In the first week of September, a U.S. House Energy and Commerce subcommittee held hearings questioning a 40-year-old law that forms the bedrock of competition in the electricity market.

Before the law took effect, electric utilities had a complete monopoly over electricity generation. In 1978, after some spectacular cost overruns by incumbent utilities, the passage of Public Utility Regulatory Policies Act (PURPA) introduced competition.

Is a law passed in the era of shag carpeting and monster sideburns just as unfashionable in 2017?

If the list of testifiers was representative of utility customer interests, you might think so. But electricity markets are no less in need of competition in 2017 than they were in 1978. In fact, customers may pay a big price without it.

A bit of background

There’s much more detail in the Institute for Local Self-Reliance’s recent overview of PURPA[2], but the law’s basic concept is that utilities must buy power from renewable energy sources or “co-generation” facilities (that produce both electricity and heat for sale) if it’s competitive with their own supplies. Think of it as the utility planning to buy a burger and fries for $5.00. If someone else can offer the utility the same lunch for less, then PURPA requires that they buy it, because it saves everyone money.

PURPA was designed to avoid utility cost overruns, particularly at nuclear power plants, if they built too much at too big a scale. It targeted market opportunities for medium-scale power generation — projects 80 megawatts or smaller (most full-scale power plants are 500 megawatts or more).

PURPA still serves a purpose

In the 1990s, Congress passed additional legislation to open the transmission system, allowing non-utilities to build power plants and sell that power elsewhere. Further changes created regional “balancing” markets run by independent system operators that allow for even more robust competition. A map of existing operators is shown below.



  1. Greentech Media:
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Verizon Will Cut Off Rural Subscribers In Thirteen States, You Listening FCC?

by Lisa Gonzalez | September 27, 2017 7:20 am

A recent proposal being considered by the FCC that has raised the loudest outcry has been the status of mobile broadband in rural areas. Now that Verizon is discontinuing rural subscriber accounts, the FCC will be able to see those concerns come to life.

Dear John…

The company has decided to cut service to scores of customers in 13 states because those subscribers have used so many roaming charges, Verizon says it isn’t profitable for the company. Service will end for affected subscribers after October 17th.

Verizon claims customers who use data while roaming via other providers’ networks create roaming costs that are higher than what the customers pay for services. In rural communities, often mobile wireless is the best (albeit poor) or only option for Internet access, so subscribers use their phones to go online.

Subscribers are from rural areas in Alaska, Idaho, Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky, Maine, Michigan, Missouri, Montana, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Utah, and Wisconsin.

In a letter sent to customers scheduled to be cut off, Verizon offered no option, such as paying more for more data or switching to a higher cost plan. Many of the people affected were enrolled in unlimited data plans:

“During a recent review of customer accounts, we discovered you are using a significant amount of data while roaming off the Verizon Wireless network. While we appreciate you choosing Verizon, after October 17th, 2017, we will no longer offer service for the numbers listed above since your primary place of use is outside the Verizon service area.”

Affecting Customers And Local Carriers

Apparently, Verizon’s LTE in Rural America (LRA) program, which creates partnerships with 21 other carriers, is the culprit. The agreements it has with the other carriers through the program allows Verizon subscribers to use those networks when they use roaming data, but Verizon must pay the carriers’ fees. Verizon has confirmed that they will disconnect 8,500 rural customers who already have little options for connectivity. (more…)[1]

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Webinar Resources: Two Business Models for Community Composting

by Nick Stumo-Langer | September 26, 2017 12:00 pm

On Wednesday, September 20th, the Institute for Local Self-Reliance and the community composting network hosted a webinar on “Two Business Models for Community Composting: Worker-Owned Cooperative & Social Enterprise[1].”

Business models, planning, and financing are among the hot topics identified by community composters nationwide. This webinar covered two business structures: a worker-owned cooperative and a social enterprise.

In less than a year, CERO[2] raised over $350,000 via nearly 100 community investors to launch its worker-owned food scrap collection enterprise in the Boston area in 2012. Founded in 1976, Eco-Cycle[3] is a Boulder-based nonprofit, mission-based social enterprise that uses revenues to build zero waste communities.

Can these models work for community composters? View the webinar[4] below to hear straight talk about the social enterprise and worker-owned cooperative models, the pros and cons of each, and some tips on getting started.


  1. Two Business Models for Community Composting: Worker-Owned Cooperative & Social Enterprise:
  2. CERO:
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Grassroots Broadband Groups Grow Across the U.S.

by Hannah Trostle | September 26, 2017 5:15 am

Community networks are hyper-local movements. As we have researched these networks, we have often uncovered the work of grassroots activists trying to make a difference in their cities. Today, we’ve gathered together a collection to show how small groups of local people can make a big difference.

Virginia Friends of Municipal Broadband — This statewide organization of citizens and activists quickly formed in opposition to the proposed Broadband Deployment Act of 2017 in Virginia. They collected statements  on why the proposed law would be sour for community networks and published a press kit to help people talk about the issue.

Yellow Springs Community Fiber — This group formed in Yellow Springs, Ohio, to have the city consider building a community network. They hosted a public forum and created a survey to gauge residents’ interest in such a project. They even published a white paper about their proposal, and the city issued an RFP to explore the option.

Upgrade Seattle — This campaign for equitable Internet access encourages folks to support a municipal network in Washington state’s largest city. The Upgrade Seattle group hosts neighborhood study sessions and encourages residents to learn more and attend city council meetings.

Holland Fiber — Holland, Michigan, has been incrementally building a fiber network, and much of the impetus came from the Holland Fiber group. Local entrepreneurs, business owners, and residents realized that high-speed connectivity would be an asset to this lakeside tourist town.

West Canal Community Network — This  group of dedicated people focused their attention on bringing high-speed Internet access to the small community of West Canal in Washington. They held a series of public forums on the issue. As the final pieces of their plan to bring DIY wireless service came together, a private provider swooped in, finally recognizing the community’s persistence and began to offer service. The area now has Internet service, thanks in no small part to the pressure from this community group.

Archived Lafayette ProFiber Blog — The late community activist John St. Julien ran this website for years, bringing attention to the community support for the Lafayette fiber network. Peruse the archived blog in order to learn how Lafayette came to build a citywide, Fiber-to-the-Home network

Grassroots activists in cities across the nation have built up small groups and nonprofits in order to organize for better, more affordable Internet service. They have used websites, social media, public forums, and neighborhood meetings to get their message out. Take a moment to explore what’s happening in your community or check out our grassroots tag[1] to read more stories about local changemakers.

This article was originally published on ILSR’s[2]. Read the original here[3].

Photo Credit: Courtesy of mounsey via pixaby[4].

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Shape the Rules for Rural Broadband Subsidies Fact Sheet – Reply Comments Due: October 18th, 2017

by Hannah Trostle | September 25, 2017 6:36 am

Another addition to our Community Networks Initiative resources! This fact sheet details the most important aspects of the Connect America Fund (CAF) Auction. What is it? What should it do? Who does it affect? And how can you make a difference?

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) manages the CAF program, which provides billions of dollars in subsidies to Internet service providers for areas where the cost of building networks is prohibitive. Some large providers decided not to accept some of the subsidies during Phase I – about $198 million annually for 10 years. Now, the FCC plans to host an auction so that providers can submit competing proposals on how best to serve these often rural, high-cost areas. (Check out the map of preliminary areas on the FCC website.)

Before the FCC can hold an auction though, the commission needs advice on how best to conduct it and what criteria they should consider. Jon Chambers, former head of the FCC’s Office of Strategic Planning and Policy Analysis, outlined his concerns about the current proposed rules in his article, The Risk of Fraudulent Bidding in the FCC Connect America Fund Auction. Listen to his analysis on Episode 268 of the Community Broadband Bits Podcast.

The first round of public comments has passed, but reply comments are due October 18th, 2017. Read the fact sheet and then submit your own comments at FCC.Gov/ecfs/filings for “Proceedings” Docket 17-182 and Docket 10-90.

PDF icon CAF_II_Auction_Fact_Sheet.pdf[1]

This article was originally published on ILSR’s[2]. Read the original here[3].

  1. CAF_II_Auction_Fact_Sheet.pdf:
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Electric Vehicles Use Local Power to Cut Pollution and Driving Costs – Episode 29 of the Building Local Power Podcast

by Nick Stumo-Langer | September 21, 2017 12:00 pm

Electric vehicles are enabling energy democracy.

That’s the takeaway from the latest Building Local Power[1] podcast episode, a discussion between guest host and Communications Manager Nick Stumo-Langer[2], Energy Democracy initiative director John Farrell[3], and Energy Democracy initiative researcher Karlee Weinmann[4]. The conversation features a number of topics, including: the trajectory electric vehicles hold in renewable energy technology, generally; the ways that cities in the wake of recent hurricanes can rebuild to better weather the storms thanks to energy resiliency; and how residents of cities, large and small, can pressure their communities to enact better policies.

The springboard for this conversation is our June 2017 report on electric vehicles: Choosing the Electric Avenue – Unlocking Savings, Emissions Reductions, and Community Benefits of Electric Vehicles[5]. With sales forecasts sky-high and battery technology getting more affordable, more and more individuals and communities are committing to vehicle electrification.

Don’t forget to rate and review the Building Local Power podcast on iTunes[6] or wherever you find your podcast, if you have show ideas or comments about our podcast email[7]. Also, join the conversation by talking about #BuildingLocalPower[8] on Twitter and Facebook!

Click here for a full transcript[9] of this podcast conversation.

“Electric vehicles are really part of what we call the democratization of energy or ‘energy democracy’,” says John Farrell[10] of how electric vehicles fit into the renewable energy scheme.

He continues: “Which is to say that we are seeing a transformation because of the technology of energy generation becoming localized with things like rooftop solar, where you are seeing the control of energy a localized with the way that our smartphones give us all sorts of control: whether it’s to change the color of light bulbs or schedule when our air conditioning is running.”


  1. Building Local Power:
  2. Nick Stumo-Langer:
  3. John Farrell:
  4. Karlee Weinmann:
  5. Choosing the Electric Avenue – Unlocking Savings, Emissions Reductions, and Community Benefits of Electric Vehicles:
  6. Building Local Power podcast on iTunes:
  8. #BuildingLocalPower:
  9. full transcript: #transcript
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Community Broadband Media Roundup – September 18

by Kelsey Henquinet | September 18, 2017 11:36 am

Every week, we pull together a list of the latest news regarding community broadband networks from across America and share it with you, our readers. Media roundups are published on Mondays, right here[1].


Cagle joins Ferguson in Pushing Broadband[2] by Winston Skinner, The Newnan Times-Herald

The lieutenant governor, who is a candidate for governor, recently announced his plan for speeding the deployment of high-speed broadband to underserved areas in rural Georgia.

“Strong infrastructure represents a bedrock component of any strategy to create access to good paying jobs,” Cagle said.



Tenn.-based Cable Provider to Bring Service to Warren County[3] by Don Sergent, Bowling Green Daily News



EPA and USDA to Help Two Maine Communities with Economic Development Goals[4], United States Environmental Protection Agency (more…)[5]

  1. right here:
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  4. EPA and USDA to Help Two Maine Communities with Economic Development Goals:
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Rural Internet Connectivity is a Campaign Issue In Virginia’s 2017 State Elections

by Lisa Gonzalez | September 15, 2017 5:46 am

For years we’ve encouraged voters to make improving connectivity a campaign issue in local, state, and federal elections by pursuing answers from candidates. In this year’s Virginia Gubernatorial race, it has now become a topic that both candidates are addressing as a key issue. The Roanoke Times Editors, no strangers to the state’s struggles with rural Internet access, recently published an editorial to inform voters[1] that broadband is finally getting some long overdue attention.


Surprised And Pleased

The Times has spent significant resources on broadband reporting in recent years, so it’s no surprise that the editors are savvy to the fact that broadband as a campaign issue is a novel development.

The most important news here is that both candidates say they see a state role in extending broadband to rural Virginia. The times really are a-changing: This is the first governor’s race where broadband has been a big enough issue for candidates to issue policy papers on the subject.

During the last legislative session, the Times covered[2] Delegate Kathy Byron’s bad broadband bill closely. Over the past few years, they’ve pointed out the many disadvantages[3] local communities face when folks suffer from poor connectivity. They’ve also shined a light on why the state’s economy will deteriorate if Virginia does nothing to improve Internet access in rural areas. (more…)[4]

  1. an editorial to inform voters:
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Tennessee Cooperative Expands Across Border into Kentucky

by Lisa Gonzalez | September 13, 2017 7:01 am

A Tennessee communications cooperative will soon bring fiber connectivity[1] to Kentucky’s Warren County. North Central Telephone Cooperative (NCTC) will offer high-quality Internet access via gigabit (1,000 Megabits per second) connectivity via its North Central Communications, Inc., subsidiary.


Starting With New Construction

NCTC will start in a new subdivision and has already installed fiber prior to new home construction. The cooperative will also offer services in a nearby apartment complex. NCTC will make Internet access along with video service available to the new homes that are not yet built. They intend to expand to other multi-dwelling units and subdivisions in the area and hope to develop a larger regional footprint.

In order to accomplish their goal, NCTC is enlisting the help of other local entities:

“We’re talking to Warren Rural Electric Cooperative and Bowling Green Municipal Utilities, trying to implement your vision that everyone in Warren County is served by broadband eventually,” said [Nancy White, NCTC CEO]. “We all have the same vision to provide broadband to as many people as want it.”

Not A Stranger To Kentucky

Approximately 120,000 people live in Warren County with a little more than half making their homes in the county seat of Bowling Green. The population has increased steadily by double digits since 2000. It’s located in the south central area of the state and also home to Southcentral Kentucky Community and Technical College and Western Kentucky University.

On September 8th, the Warren County Fiscal Court approved a non-exclusive franchise agreement to allow NCTC to serve people in the county. NCTC is already serving subscribers in Allen County as part of the Kentucky Wired project. Warren County adjacent on the northwest border of Allen County. (more…)[2]

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Press Release: Mayor Hodges’ Budget Would Make Minneapolis a National Clean Energy Leader

by John Farrell | September 12, 2017 2:00 pm

John Farrell[1]
(612) 808-0888

Proposed budget would enable Minneapolis residents, businesses to save millions on energy costs

MINNEAPOLIS, MINN. — Cities across the country are grappling with extreme weather, rising sea levels, and an urgent need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Many of them have committed to address this crisis. But the City of Minneapolis, under a budget proposed by Mayor Betsy Hodges, is poised to do something novel: put real resources behind its climate and energy pledge. The mayor’s budget proposal would unlock roughly $3 million in new funding, leveraging more than $20 million in utility conservation funds, and expand access to energy savings to many more residents and businesses.

Under Mayor Hodges’ budget proposal, presented Tuesday to the Minneapolis City Council, the city would increase its natural gas and electricity franchise fees by 0.5 percent — a nominal increase on payments already made by all utility customers in Minneapolis. The increase would yield substantially deeper resources for the city to pursue urgent energy goals, including retrofits of 75% of homes by 2025 and reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 80% by 2050.

“The mayor’s commitment would juice up the city’s one-of-a-kind Clean Energy Partnership with utilities Xcel Energy and CenterPoint Energy,” says John Farrell, a member of the citizen advisory board to the Partnership and director of the Energy Democracy Initiative at the Minneapolis-based Institute for Local Self-Reliance (ILSR). “It would mean far more city residents and businesses would have access to tools to cut their energy use, and be able to go deeper to reduce energy costs by 20% or more.” (more…)[2]

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Get Charged Up About Drive Electric Week

by Karlee Weinmann | September 11, 2017 12:00 pm

Electric vehicle sales are surging, and the trend shows no signs of stopping — particularly as the battery technology that powers them enables longer trips and comes at a lower cost. The first electric cars hit the market more than 100 years ago, but this time, there’s plenty of reasons to believe they’re not only here to say — but poised to fundamentally shift both transportation and the way we interact with the grid.

This Drive Electric Week, join ILSR in celebrating the rise of the electric vehicle and the opportunity it presents to modernize the grid, empower consumers, and benefit communities. Below, we invite you to explore our recent work on electric vehicles and energy democracy. (You can also find our full report, Choosing the Electric Avenue — Unlocking Savings, Emissions Reductions, and Community Benefits of Electric Vehicles here[1].)

Electric Vehicles Everywhere

Electric vehicles re-entered the U.S. market in a big way over the past decade or so, led by popular Hybrid models like the Toyota Prius. Now, drivers have an ever-expanding suite of options, and they’re increasingly choosing to plug rather than gas up. In just the first quarter of 2011, more electric cars were sold than General Motors had leased throughout the 1990s. Last year, U.S. auto dealers had sold 158,000 plug-in vehicles, a 30% increase over 2015 figures. Learn more here[1].

Good News for Utilities?

If the average electric car travels 12,000 miles per year, it will require the typical household to use an extra 4,000 kilowatt-hours per year — a 33% increase. On a mass scale, the additional demand would provide a significant boost to electric utilities which, for the better part of a decade, have been universally battling stagnant growth in electricity sales. While this hiked-up demand could place some new strain on the grid, overall it offers a compelling opportunity for utilities to offer favorable rates, policy, and infrastructure that captures the potential for the grid while easing avoidable risks. Learn more here[2]. (more…)[3]

  1. here:
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Ohio State Lawmakers Look to Minnesota for Broadband Development Ideas

by Lisa Gonzalez | September 11, 2017 3:18 am

Two Ohio State Senators are taking a page from Minnesota’s playbook to expand rural broadband connectivity. Democratic Sen. Joe Schiavoni and Republican Sen. Cliff Hite recently announced that they would be introducing legislation to create a grant program[1] modeled after the Minnesota Border-to-Border Broadband Grant Program.


Putting Money Into It

The program is expected to expand broadband Internet access to approximately 14,000 rural Ohio households per year. State officials estimate that 300,000 homes and 88,500 businesses in rural areas of the state do not have access to broadband connectivity.

In Minnesota, the Department of Employment and Economic Development hosts the Office of Broadband Development[2], which administrates grant awards and management. The Ohio bill will place the responsibility for the program in the hands of their Development Services Agency[3] (DSA).

Grants will be awarded of up to $5 million for infrastructure projects in unserved and underserved areas; the grants cannot fund more than half the total cost of each project. Recipients can be businesses, non-profits, co-ops or political subdivisions. The bill allocates $50 million per year for broadband development from the state’s Ohio Third Frontier bond revenues.

The Ohio Third Frontier is a state economic development initiative aimed at boosting tech companies that are in early stages and helping diverse startups. The Ohio General Assembly appropriates funds to the program, much like the Office of Broadband Development in Minnesota.


Minnesota Setting The Trend

seal-minnesota.jpgThis isn’t the first time politicians have looked longingly at Minnesota’s plan to build more network infrastructure in rural areas. Ralph Northam, Virginia’s Lieutenant Governor, released an economic plan for his state this summer and addressed the need to improve connectivity in rural areas. In his plan, he suggested that the state adopt clear goals “[s]imilar to the legislation Minnesota has passed.”

His report inspired the Roanoke Times[4] to look deeper at Minnesota’s Border-to-Border Broadband Program and the editors decided that “there are some useful lessons Virginia can learn from Minnesota.”


  1. legislation to create a grant program:
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Madison, Wis. Asks for Proposals for Building Citywide Fiber Network

by Lisa Gonzalez | September 8, 2017 6:20 am

Last year, Madison’s CIO Paul Kronberger spoke with Christopher about the city’s pilot project[1] to bring better connectivity to several lower-income areas. They also discussed the community’s separate plan to deploy dark fiber infrastructure across the city. The city recently released its Request for Proposals as they seek a partner for deployment for a Fiber-to-the-Premise (FTTP) network. Final proposals are due October 20th.

The RFP comes about a year after the community finished a feasibility study[2] to examine costs, interest, and business models for a city-wide municipal network.


Publicly Owned With Help From A Partner

Madison has a specific business model in mind. They are looking for a partner willing to emulate Huntsville’s approach[3], in which the city designs, builds, and owns a dark fiber network. A private sector partner constructs fiber drop cables from the public rights-of-way to the subscribers’ premises. The partner handles lit services responsibilities and the city takes care of all dark fiber concerns. Madison also wants its partner to take on the task of obtaining access to necessary private easements. The community is looking for a firm that is willing to establish a long-term relationship.

The city has determined that the project will consist of 114,680 residential passings, which includes both single-family and multi-family dwellings. The number of business passings has been calculated to 10,331. All community anchor institutions (CAIs) will also be connected.


The Vision For Madison

Approximately 247,000 people live in the state’s capital city, having seen an increase of 8.6 percent since 2010. Madison is considered a town with an exceptional quality of life, in part because the city has established a set of Racial Equity & Justice (RESJ) goals. Their desire to invest in the infrastructure to bring equitable service to all of the community is an extension of those goals. (more…)[4]

  1. about the city’s pilot project:
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Press Release: Amazon Angles for Subsidies in Search of Second HQ

by Nick Stumo-Langer | September 7, 2017 10:36 am

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: Thursday, September 7th, 2017.
Contact: Nick Stumo-Langer,[1], 612-844-1330[2]

In response to Amazon’s announcement that it is seeking a location[3] for a second North American headquarters, Stacy Mitchell, co-director of the Institute for Local Self-Reliance issued the following statement:

“Amazon’s announcement that it’s opening a search for a second North American headquarters is only the latest play in Amazon’s long-time strategy of financing its growth through public subsidies.

“Over the last decade, as Amazon has mastered this strategy, it’s come to employ site location experts and lobbyists in its efforts to pit local and state governments against each other for the largest subsidy package. It’s a strategy that’s paid off for the company: Our Nov. 2016 report[4] found that between 2005 and 2014, half of all of Amazon’s new fulfillment centers received public incentives, totaling $613 million. Amazon received another $147 million in subsidies connected to its data centers during these years. Additional incentives provided by governments since 2014 have driven the total value of public handouts that Amazon has received to well over $1 billion, according to data compiled by Good Jobs First.

“These deals are in addition to generous tax loopholes that Amazon has long exploited to gain a financial advantage over its brick-and-mortar competitors, especially independent retailers.

“For taxpayers, workers, and local governments, Amazon’s strategy has been costly. Our analysis[5] finds that as Amazon grows, it’s in fact destroying far more jobs than it’s creating. It’s also beginning to threaten the revenue streams on which local governments rely, as shuttered stores depress commercial property tax values. In response to Amazon’s HQ2 RFP, public officials would do well to invest in smart economic development for their communities instead of engaging in Amazon’s arms race.”

For more on Amazon’s use of subsidies and tax loopholes, see pages 63-67[6] of our report:[7].


The Institute for Local Self-Reliance (ILSR) is a 42-year-old national nonprofit research and educational organization. ILSR’s mission is to provide innovative strategies, working models and timely information to support strong, community rooted, environmentally sound and equitable local economies.[8] – Email[1] for press inquiries.

  2. 612-844-1330: tel:(612)%20844-1300
  3. seeking a location:
  4. Nov. 2016 report:’s+Stranglehold
  5. analysis:’s+Stranglehold
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Cleveland Residents File Discrimination Complaint Against AT&T

by Lisa Gonzalez | September 1, 2017 6:18 am

Large, corporate providers like AT&T have to make shareholders happy, which is why they shy way from investing in regions where they don’t expect much profit. Routinely, those areas include sparsely populated rural communities and urban neighborhoods traditionally considered low-income. Often low-income neighborhoods also include a high percentage of people of color. Attorney Daryl Parks of ParksCrump, LLC, recently filed suit with the FCC on behalf of three residents in Cleveland who are victims of AT&T’s “digital redlining.”

The Data Tells The Story

In March, the National Digital Inclusion Alliance (NDIA) and Connect Your Community (CYC) released a report on digital redlining[1] in low-income neighborhoods in Cleveland. “Digital redlining” refers to AT&T’s investments in infrastructure, which improve connectivity in areas where they serve, except for neighborhoods with high poverty rates. CYC and NDIA analyzed form 477 data submitted by the telecommunications company and noticed a pattern. The revelations in that report helped the plaintiffs understand their situation and choose to ask the FCC to look deeper into AT&T’s questionable business practices.

The event that inspired the analysis was the AT&T DirecTV merger. As part of the merger, AT&T agreed to create a low-cost Internet access program for customers under a certain income level. The speed tier was only 3 Megabits per second (Mbps) download, but AT&T infrastructure investment in Cleveland lower income neighborhoods was so outdated, residents could not obtain those minimal speeds. As a result, they were deemed ineligible for the program. (more…)[2]

  1. released a report on digital redlining:
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What To Do About Germany’s Packaging Explosion?

by Neil Seldman | August 30, 2017 7:00 am

A business report from the German group Deutsche Welle paints a very confusing picture for those looking at Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) for paper, packaging and products, or PPP, in US. Does EPR in Germany, the leader in EPR policy for the past three decades, work?

The original report from Deutsche Welle is available here.[1]

According to a study by the Wuppertal Institute for Climate, Environment and Energy, Germans produce more packaging per capita (1.3 lbs. per day) than any other European country. Companies are actually making more money by using more packaging. Stephan Gabriel Haufe, German Environment Minister, announced that new packaging laws would provide stronger incentives to manufacturers to redesign and reduce packaging and better incentives for recovery of beverage containers.

Some companies can easily comply with new regulations as they have cut packaging by 20% on their own. What are we to make of this information? Apparently under the founding EPR system:

The list is a fit, if not complete, summary of the critique of EPR – PPP in the US. (more…)[2]

  1. The original report from Deutsche Welle is available here.:
  2. (more…):

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8 Policy Strategies Cities Can Use to Support Local Businesses

by Stacy Mitchell | August 28, 2017 3:51 pm

The Institute for Local Self-Reliance produced this policy brief for Local Progress, a network of elected officials organized by the Center for Popular Democracy. We’ve reproduced the text of the brief below, and it’s also available to download[1] [PDF] and as part of Local Progress’s library of policy briefs[2].


The Problem

Locally owned businesses play a central role in healthy communities, and are among the best engines that cities and towns have for advancing economic opportunity. Small business ownership has been a pathway to the middle class for generations of Americans, and continues to be a crucial tool for building wealth and community self-determination. This is something many people understand intuitively, and it is also borne out by research that finds that the presence of locally owned businesses is linked to higher rates of job creation, less income inequality, and stronger social networks.[1][3]

Despite these benefits, in many communities, small businesses are disappearing. Between 1997 and 2012, the number of independent retailers fell by about 108,000 and small manufacturers declined by 70,000.[2][4]  Even more alarming than the overall decline in small businesses is the fact that it appears to have become much harder to launch one: The number of new firms created each year has fallen by nearly half since the 1970s, a trend that economists say is slowing job growth.[3][5]

Contrary to popular perception, this decline isn’t because local businesses aren’t competitive. In many cases, it’s because public policy and concentrated market power are working against them. Misguided zoning policies, soaring real estate costs, and financing terms that incentivize landlords to rent to chains[4][6] are making it harder for local businesses to find suitable space. Banking consolidation and the decline of local financial institutions has left more entrepreneurs struggling to obtain the capital they need, a barrier that is especially acute for Black, Latinx, and women entrepreneurs.[5][7] Economic development subsidies and tax incentives further skew the playing field by disproportionately flowing[8] to big corporations.


The Solution

As policymakers begin to recognize these barriers, some are taking action to ensure that their communities are places where local businesses can thrive. Here is a sampling of the strategies they are using. (more…)[9]

  1. download:
  2. library of policy briefs:
  3. [1]: #_edn1
  4. [2]: #_edn2
  5. [3]: #_edn3
  6. [4]: #_edn4
  7. [5]: #_edn5
  8. disproportionately flowing:
  9. (more…):

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Court Sides With Louisville: One Touch Make Ready Is A-Ok

by Lisa Gonzalez | August 28, 2017 9:25 am

Louisville has overcome a tall hurdle in its efforts to bring better connectivity and more competition to the community through local control. On August 16th the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Kentucky supported the city’s one touch make ready (OTMR) ordinance. AT&T challenged the ordinance in court, but their arguments fell flat and court confirmed that the city has the authority to manage its rights-of-way with OTMR.


State Law

AT&T’s claim based on state law asserted that the city was overstepping its authority by enacting the OTMR ordinance because it was impinging on Kentucky Public Service Commission jurisdiction. AT&T attorneys argued that, according to state law, the PSC has exclusive jurisdiction over utility rates and services, but the court found that argument incorrect.

Within the state law, the court found that the OTMR ordinance fell under a carve-out that allows Louisville to retain jurisdiction over its public rights-of-way as a matter of public safety. The ordinance helps limit traffic disruptions by reducing the number of instances trucks and crews need to tend to pole attachments. The court wrote in its Order[1]:

AT&T narrowly characterizes Ordinance No. 21 as one that regulates pole attachments. But the ordinance actually prescribes the “method or manner of encumbering or placing burdens on” public rights-of-way. … It is undisputed that make-ready work can require blocking traffic and sidewalks multiple times to permit multiple crews to perform the same work on the same utility pole…. The one-touch make-ready ordinance requires that all necessary make-ready work be performed by a single crew, lessening the impact of make-ready work on public rights-of-way. … Louisville Metro has an important interest in managing its public rights-of-way to maximize efficiency and enhance public safety. … And Kentucky law preserves the right of cities to regulate public rights-of-way. … Because Ordinance No. 21 regulates public rights-of-way, it is within Louisville Metro’s constitutional authority to enact the ordinance, and [the state law granting authority to the PSC] cannot limit that authority.


Federal Jurisdiction

gavel.pngEven though many states are subject to FCC pole attachment rules, those rules don’t apply in Kentucky. AT&T tried to argue that the FCC has jurisdiction over the poles, but Kentucky is a “reverse preemption state” under the federal Pole Attachment Act (47 USC § 224). Due to their classification, FCC rules on pole attachments don’t apply in Kentucky. (more…)[2]

  1. wrote in its Order:
  2. (more…):

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Working Partner Update: The Reuse People

by Neil Seldman | August 28, 2017 6:00 am

Our partners at The Reuse People have been busy with the growth of the reuse movement. Here’s a recent update from their president, Ted Rieff:

The Repair Movement Boosts Reuse

by Ted Rieff

There’s a worldwide “repair movement” underway. That’s a fact I didn’t know until very recently, when a reader sent me several news articles that describe various aspects of the movement. Included are “right to repair” organizations fighting for easier access to repair information from manufacturers (electronics is a main focus) and “repair cafés,” where people can take broken or inoperable items and find volunteers with the expertise to fix them. Then there’s[1], a growing online resource that promotes repair-ability through a variety of initiatives.

I must admit to being somewhat puzzled by the idea that repairing (rather than replacing) broken items borders on revolutionary. After all, a few short decades ago if something broke you either fixed it yourself or took it to a repair facility. You could always find a shop that repaired worn or damaged appliances, bicycles, radios, shoes, furniture, even clothing (the local tailor or seamstress).

Then, too, TRP is in the reuse business, so I’m surrounded by salvaged products, most of which are going to need some kind of fixing, even if it’s just a coat of paint. Customers can purchase beautiful cabinetry, windows, doors, lighting fixtures and other used products from TRP, but they wouldn’t be in our store if they weren’t ready to retrofit or restore what they buy. Appliances are the only items that are guaranteed to be in working order and for which TRP allows a brief return window.

There are several reasons getting things repaired has become more difficult. Planned obsolescence is one. Another is the ease of finding replacement products, which often cost less than what you’d spend to have the broken item repaired. And when manufacturers restrict repair information to “authorized” facilities, unsanctioned repair shops go out of business. Those are things the movement is trying to change.

I’m glad that informed consumers are starting to rethink their options when it comes to the question of whether to repair or replace broken items, because repairs lead to reuse, and reuse is what TRP is all about. The more people are willing to repair stuff, the more they will be willing to purchase used products. Repair and reuse go hand in hand.

It’s all part and parcel of the circular economy, wherein products and resources are kept moving throughout the system rather than trucked off to that ultimate dead-end — the local landfill.

If you’re interested in learning more about the repair movement, check out these articles:

Follow the Institute for Local Self-Reliance on Twitter[6] and Facebook[7] and, for monthly updates on our work, sign-up[8] for our ILSR general newsletter.

  2. Repair is the New Green –
  3. At Repair Cafes, ‘Beloved but Broken’ Possessions Find New Life – NY Times:
  4. The Fight for the Right to Repair – The Smithsonian:
  5. ‘Repair cafés’ are about fixing things – including the economy:
  6. Twitter:
  7. Facebook:
  8. sign-up:

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Great Britain’s Trash Burning Habits Makes Recycling Go Up in Smoke

by Neil Seldman | August 25, 2017 3:21 pm

This article[1] caught our eye about the practice of burning trash in Great Britain from the Duetsche Welle.

Highlights from the article include:

The Eunomia report concludes that if all of the planned incinerators were built, the UK will only reach a 57 percent recycling rate by 2030. That is far below the 70 percent target about to be adopted under European Union law – a target the UK government has signaled it will keep, even after Brexit.

But with the rise of renewables, such energy is looking less attractive. Building out incinerator capacity is making recycling goals hard to meet – and could lead to the absurd situation of having to import waste to feed to industrial burners.

According to a new report from the environmental consultancy Eunomia[2], all of this incinerator-building will make it impossible for the UK to meet its planned recycling targets. That’s because incineration capacity offers a perverse incentive to stop recycling.

According to the report, the UK is going to end up with more capacity than it has rubbish to burn by 2021, because there will be ever less black bag rubbish as recycling rates improve. That gap will reach 3.4 million tons by 2030. (more…)[3]

  1. This article:
  2. Eunomia:
  3. (more…):

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What Neighborhood Retail Gets Right – Episode 27 of the Building Local Power Podcast

by Nick Stumo-Langer | August 24, 2017 12:00 pm

In this week’s Building Local Power[1] podcast episode, ILSR co-director Stacy Mitchell[2] interviewed Gina Schaefer[3], a Washington D.C.-based founder of several Ace Hardware stores and a board member of the Institute for Local Self-Reliance. The two discuss a number of topics, including how her Logan Circle neighborhood reacted to her first store opening and the way her stores are faring in the age of big-box retail and Amazon.

Click here for a full transcript[4] of this podcast conversation.

If you’re interested in finding out the ways the cooperative model of Ace Hardware works across the country, the experience of a women in independent retail, and why valuing retail workers is critical to success then this is the podcast for you.

Don’t forget to rate and review the Building Local Power podcast on iTunes[5] or wherever you find your podcast, if you have show ideas or comments about our podcast email

“[Amazon] just means that we have to be scrappier, and more diligent, and figure out how to be more top-of-mind for our consumers,” says Gina Schaefer of how she deals with Amazon encroaching on her hardware business.

“I do think that there’s a role that the customer needs to play. On one hand people are loving the return of Main Street. They’re embracing the Shop Local movements… Then on the other hand is really fighting this ‘it’s cheaper and more convenient’ mentality with Amazon that all of the small retailers have to figure out how to compete with.”


Get caught up with the latest work from the Institute for Local Self-Reliance on fighting monopoly power and the state of independent businesses across our economy: (more…)[11]

  1. Building Local Power:
  2. Stacy Mitchell:
  3. Gina Schaefer:
  4. full transcript: #transcript
  5. Building Local Power podcast on iTunes:
  6. [Image]:
  7. Play in new window:
  8. Download:
  9. Android:
  10. RSS:
  11. (more…):

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Dumb and Dumber: Looking Beyond the Department of Energy’s Flawed “Baseload” Study

by John Farrell | August 24, 2017 7:00 am

The U.S. Department of Energy earlier this summer commissioned a study[1] purportedly about grid reliability. In reality, it’s more likely the study is a fishing expedition searching for ways to buttress fossil fuel contributors to and allies of the Trump administration — folks squeezed by competition from less costly wind and solar power[2].

Luckily, the expedition for the imaginary renewable reliability liability seems to have run aground on reality, according to a leaked draft of the report[3] (final report here[4]). Rather than implicate renewables, it shows that low prices drove utilities into the arms of gas power plants and away from coal and nuclear power (it still has plenty of insinuations about renewable energy).

While this study will hopefully end the futile effort to find a clean energy scapegoat for the struggles of large-scale, non-renewable power plants, it doesn’t erase a longer-range issue for electric utilities across the U.S.: big, old power plants and new fossil-fuel power plants are equally ill-equipped to compete in a 21st century electricity system.

No Turning Back

The fantasy of the Department of Energy study was finding a way to turn back the clock on renewable energy, missing its key advantage: since wind and solar have no fuel costs, they are always the cheapest electricity in the market. No matter how low the operations costs of a coal or nuclear (or gas) power plant, they need fuel. And it’s virtually impossible to find any supplier of coal, uranium, or gas who can compete with zero. Plus, there aren’t many utility customers who want to pay more than they have to for electricity. In other words, power plants that rely on round-the-clock electricity sales can’t compete in a world of zero-marginal-cost solar and wind electricity (the study acknowledges this).

This chart from the California grid operator illustrates shifts in the market. The solid blue line shows total electricity demand, but the zero-fuel-cost renewables (primarily wind and solar) are reducing the total amount needed from the grid, as shown by the green line.


What power plant owners need isn’t a round-the-clock electricity generator, but a flexible response to wind and solar energy. The grid needs resources that can follow the green line, supplying power (or reducing demand) when needed, and on short notice. Right now, most utilities have settled on natural gas power plants for that role. There’s been a fairly dramatic buildup in natural gas capacity in the past decade, even amid renewable energy growth (the Department’s study notes this growth, driven by low gas prices, but doesn’t necessarily grasp the longer-term liabilities).

[6] (more…)[7]

  1. commissioned a study:
  2. less costly wind and solar power:
  3. leaked draft of the report:
  4. final report here:
  5. [Image]:
  6. [Image]:
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FCC Considers Smart Phones Broadband Deployment. That’s Laughable.

by Hannah Trostle | August 22, 2017 6:13 am

Cell phones as a substitute for home Internet service? That’s what the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) suggested in an August 2017 document. Buried within the Notice of Inquiry for the Section 706 Report, the FCC quietly proposed that mobile service could be considered broadband deployment.

In a recent article, Jon Brodkin at Ars Technica dove into why that suggestion is laughable. Mobile Internet service, especially at speeds less than 25 Megabits per second (Mbps) download and 3 Mbps upload, is not equivalent to high-speed home Internet service.

This proposal also raises concerns for rural communities exploring funding options.


Overstating Rural Connectivity Has Consequences

If the FCC treats mobile Internet access as broadband deployment, rural areas will suddenly look better connected. On paper, the FCC statistics will show that rural America has sufficient Internet access, but the reality in the trenches will remain as it is today – poor connectivity in many rural communities.

A similar situation has already happened in Iowa, where the inclusion of satellite Internet service is now considered broadband access. The interactive FCC 2016 Broadband Deployment Map clearly shows that almost all of Iowa has high-speed Internet access via satellite. One can use satellite service to browse the web, but it has significant limitations, especially when uploading data.

screenshot of Iowa

[Screenshot from August 2017 of FCC June 2016 Deployment Data of Iowa: Yellow = 25 Mbps/3 Mbps Internet access. Full map here.] (more…)[1]

  1. (more…):

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Connectivity Coming Up Roses Since the 90s in Pasadena, California

by Lisa Gonzalez | August 21, 2017 2:57 am

Most people associate Pasadena with the annual Tournament of Roses parade and the Rose Bowl football game, but under the flowery surface, fiber is connecting Pasadena’s municipal facilities, businesses, and electric utility substations. Pasadena developed its fiber optic network to improve electric utility efficiency but also with an eye toward the future. When they invested in the infrastructure, community leaders anticipated that economic development would thrive in communities with ample high-quality connectivity.

Lori Sandoval, Telecom and Regulatory Administrator for Pasadena’s Department of Information Technology was involved in the development of Pasadena’s fiber network from the beginning and she shared the story with us. She also provided some lessons learned so other communities can get the most out of Pasadena’s experience.


A Community Of Culture

The community of approximately 140,000 people was one of the first incorporated in what is now Los Angeles County and considered a cultural hub. IN addition to Caltech, Pasadena City College and the ArtCenter College of Design, the Pasadena Playhouse and several museums are there. JPL and Kaiser Permanente are two of its largest employers. Its school system, Pasadena Unified School District, extends beyond the reach of the city. Pasadena has been celebrated for its architecture, especially it 1930s bungalows and many historical estates.


How It All Started

In the mid-1990s, the community included construction of a fiber optic network in its strategic plan. Pasadena Water and Power had been using old copper lines for communications between substations and needed to replace them with something more reliable that also provided more bandwidth. During this same period, the City Manager’s Office was investigating ways to create new revenue and local businesses were finding that they could not obtain the Internet services they needed from incumbent ISPs.

Pasadena’s first approach was to focus on installing more conduit and fiber than needed for city services and to lease the asset to a competitive carrier. They allocated $1.8 million from the general fund to pay for network construction. If Pasadena had funded the deployment with electric utility funds, law required the infrastructure be used exclusively for electric utility purposes. The loan from the general fund was predicated on the understanding that funds from a lease to a competitive carrier would first go directly to the general fund to repay the cost of deployment. (more…)[1]

  1. (more…):

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Bring On The Ballots: Two More Colorado Communities Face Opt Out Question

by Lisa Gonzalez | August 18, 2017 4:58 am

As predicted, more Colorado communities are opting out of the state’s restrictive SB 152 that removed local telecommunications authority in 2005. Two more communities have decided to put the question to voters this fall in order to take the reins and reclaim local control.


Eagle County, Colorado

There are about 53,000 people living in Eagle County[1], located in the northwest section of the state. The County Commission had considered taking the matter to the voters last fall, but considered the ballot too full with other measures. The town of Red Cliff within Eagle County voted to opt out[2] of the law in 2014. County officials have included telecommunications in their legislative policy statement[3] supporting their intent to reclaim local authority and bringing better connectivity to both urban and rural areas of the county.

Eagle County encompasses 1,692 square miles; much of that is managed by the Bureau of Land Management. There are several national protected areas within the county. They haven’t established a plan to invest in publicly owned Internet infrastructure, but first want to deal with the issue of opting out of SB 152.


City of Alamosa, Colorado

Alamosa[4], county seat of Alamosa County, is also planning on bringing the issue to voters this fall. Like many other communities that have voted to opt out, Alamosa doesn’t have specific plans to invest in infrastructure yet, but they want to have all options on the table.

They’re interested in using existing city owned dark fiber and conduit and exploring possible public-private partnerships, but they’ve not ruled out offering direct services. In a few of the public areas, Alamosa intends to offer free Wi-Fi while they look into possible solutions.

Alamosa is in south central Colorado and home to approximately 8,800 people. The climate is a cold desert where the Rio Grande River passes through town. More than half of county residents live in the city.


Joining An Ever Expanding List

Earlier this year, Central City and Colorado Springs voters chose to opt out of SB 152[5], bringing the list to nearly 100 local communities. In order to assist with local efforts, the Colorado Municipal League and Colorado Communities, Inc., have created the SB05-152 Opt Out Kit: A Local Government Blueprint For Improving Broadband Service in Your Community[6]. The kit includes sample ballot language, provides resources for educating voters, and shares outcomes in communities where voters chose to opt out.

In most case, support to reclaim local authority greatly outweighs votes against it, reinforcing research that reveals strong support[7] for local choice and municipal networks. As in other Colorado referendums, the decision proved to be bipartisan with voters from all parties supporting the idea to reclaim local authority; clearly Coloradoans from across the political spectrum understand the need for high-quality Internet access.


List current as of November 9th, 2016.

This article was originally published on ILSR’s[9]. Read the original here[10].

  1. Eagle County:
  2. Red Cliff within Eagle County voted to opt out:
  3. legislative policy statement:
  4. Alamosa:
  5. chose to opt out of SB 152:
  6. SB05-152 Opt Out Kit: A Local Government Blueprint For Improving Broadband Service in Your Community:
  7. research that reveals strong support:
  8. [Image]:
  10. here:

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Press Release: Minneapolis Mayor’s Proposed Budget Unlocks $2M+ for Clean Energy

by Nick Stumo-Langer | August 17, 2017 12:28 pm

John Farrell[1]
(612) 808-0888

Proposed budget would enable Minneapolis residents, businesses to save millions on energy costs

MINNEAPOLIS, MINN. — A few weeks ago, cities across the country responded to President Trump’s intention to withdraw from the Paris Climate Accord with their own commitments. But the City of Minneapolis, under a budget proposed by Mayor Betsy Hodges, is poised to do something novel: put real resources behind its climate and energy pledge. The mayor’s budget proposal would unlock more than $2 million in new funding, leverage more than $20 million in utility conservation funds and expand access to energy savings to many more residents and businesses

Included in Mayor Hodges’ proposal, unveiled this week, the city would increase its natural gas and electricity franchise fees by 0.5 percent — a nominal increase on payments already made by all utility customers in Minneapolis. The increase would yield substantially deeper resources for the city to pursue urgent energy goals, including retrofits of 75% of homes by 2025 and reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 80% by 2050.

“The mayor’s commitment would juice up the city’s one-of-a-kind Clean Energy Partnership with utilities Xcel Energy and CenterPoint Energy,” says John Farrell, a member of the citizen advisory board to the Partnership and director of the Energy Democracy Initiative at the Minneapolis-based Institute for Local Self-Reliance (ILSR). “It would mean far more city residents and businesses would have access to tools to cut their energy use, and be able to go deeper to reduce energy costs by 20% or more.” (more…)[2]

  2. (more…):

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Grant County, Oregon, Starts Planning Internet Infrastructure Project

by Lisa Gonzalez | August 17, 2017 5:06 am

With funding from the state to jumpstart their initiative, the city of John Day in Grant County, Oregon, is working with local communities to deploy fiber to nearby Burns. The infrastructure will bring better connectivity to local residents in the mostly rural community.


Beginning Of A Plan

City Manager of John Day Nick Green told the Blue Mountain Eagle[1] that the plan is still in the works, but representatives from the county and local towns will be part of the Grant County Digital Coalition. The group, which is still being organized, will own and manage the infrastructure. They anticipate the network will likely be some sort of hybrid design, rather than Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) throughout the entire 4,529 square mile county. “Our goal is to address the entire county’s needs, but we will start with the urban corridor,” said Green.

Green told the Eagle that average download capacity in the county is 10 Megabits per second (Mbps) and local officials want the new infrastructure to boost averages to at least 30 Mbps. There is some fiber in the region for businesses but residential access is poor.


County To County

The city of John Day[2] received $1.82 million from the state, which will fund the project. The county will deploy a 75-mile fiber optic line from Burns in Harney County to the Grant County seat, where about 1,800 people live. John Day is the most populous community in the county, where only about 7,500 people reside. Phase 1 will deploy an additional 85 miles of fiber to connect Grant County facilities, such as city halls, schools, and the county court. For Phase 2, local communities will construct municipal networks to offer residential service in the south and east of the county seat. Phase 3 will follow with a similar effort in the northern and western communities.

Once the Coalition is formed, they will decide whether to offer services directly as a utility company or to lease the infrastructure to a private sector provider. In addition to improving residential Internet access, local officials hope improved connectivity will spur economic development. The early timeline for the Grant County Digital Network[3] estimates local residents will be able to obtain service as early as October 2018.


The “New West”

About 63 percent of the land in Grant County is controlled by the U.S. Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management. There are several National Forests and designated Wilderness Areas in Grant County. In recent years, the community has experience population decline, high unemployment, and an aging population. They’ve started several initiatives to reinvigorate the region in order to stimulate growth, including a focus on targeting young working families and digital commuters.

State Sen. Ted Ferrioli of John Day, who worked to obtain the state funding, referred to John Day as a “new West” community. “It could turn out to be the key piece to attracting a few new employers and growing local businesses.”

This article was originally published on ILSR’s[4]. Read the original here[5].

  1. told the Blue Mountain Eagle:
  2. city of John Day:
  3. early timeline for the Grant County Digital Network:
  5. here:

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Voters Say “Yes!” to Fiber-to-the-Home in Lyndon Township, Michigan

by Lisa Gonzalez | August 16, 2017 5:13 am

In a record high turnout for a non-general election, voters in Lyndon Township, Michigan[1], decided to approve a bond proposal to fund a publicly owned Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) network. The measure passed with 66 percent of voters (622 votes) choosing yes and 34 percent (321 votes) voting no.


Geographically Close, Technologically Distant

The community is located only 20 minutes away from Ann Arbor, home to the University of Michigan and the sixth largest city in the state, but many of the Township’s residents must rely on satellite for Internet access. Residents and business owners complain about slow service, data caps, and the fact that they must pay high rates for inadequate Internet service. Residents avoid software updates from home and typically travel to the library in nearby Chelsea to work in the evening or to complete school homework assignments.

Lyndon Township Supervisor Marc Keezer has reached out to ISPs[2] and asked them to invest in the community, but none consider it a worthwhile investment. Approximately 80 percent of the community has no access to FCC-defined broadband speeds of 25 Megabits per second (Mbps) download and 3 Mbps upload.

“We don’t particularly want to build a network in our township. We would rather it be privatized and be like everybody else,” Keezer said. “But that’s not a reality for us here.”

When local officials unanimously approved feasibility study funding about a year ago, citizens attending the meeting responded to their vote with applause[3]. (more…)[4]

  1. Lyndon Township, Michigan:
  2. has reached out to ISPs:
  3. responded to their vote with applause:
  4. (more…):

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Visa Wants to Rule How We Pay for Purchases. But Its Market Power Has a High Cost.

by Olivia LaVecchia | August 14, 2017 4:46 pm

In July, Visa announced a new initiative. It would offer a select number of restaurants and food vendors as much as $10,000 each to upgrade their payment technology. There was one catch: The businesses had to agree to stop accepting cash.

The initiative was the “opening salvo,” as one Visa executive put it, in the credit card company’s plan to increase its market power by eliminating cash. “We’re focused on putting cash out of business,” Visa CEO Al Kelly told[1] the company’s investors.

There’s a clear incentive for Visa to take on cash. That’s in part because the company has already conquered the market for credit cards. In 2016, 59 percent[2] of credit and debit card purchases in the U.S. were made with a Visa card. Another 25 percent of purchases were made with a Mastercard, meaning that just two card networks now have a near lock on the market.

For the businesses on the receiving end of this push, though, a cashless future could be quite costly. That’s because of one of the other incentives Visa has for getting rid of cash. Every time a customer pays for a transaction with Visa, Visa gets a cut, along with the bank that issues the card, in what are known as swipe fees. Visa and the banks decide what that cut is. It averages about 2 percent[3] [PDF] of the purchase amount. In other words, on a $100 purchase, that’s $2 that gets eaten up in swipe fees that would otherwise go to the business. Smaller businesses, which have no leverage to negotiate, often pay even more; in our survey[4] of more than 3,000 independent business owners, retailers reported a median of 3 percent of their total revenue spent on swipe fees.

For many businesses, especially retailers and restaurants, swipe fees’ cut of their revenue is often more than their entire profit margin. As one business owner, the head of a fourth-generation supermarket in the Cleveland area, explains it[5], “Swipe fees have ballooned into my second-largest operating cost after labor… my profit margins don’t go much above a single percent.” Another business owner, who employs 400 people at eight gas station and convenience store locations in Minnesota, echoes[6] the experience: “As with almost every other convenience store, the banks take more in swipe fees than I earn in profits.” (more…)[7]

  1. told:
  2. 59 percent:
  3. 2 percent:
  4. survey:
  5. explains it:
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Internet Association’s Video Looks At Network Neutrality And What ISPs Are Really Saying

by Lisa Gonzalez | August 11, 2017 5:00 am

With the FCC taking another look at the advancements in network neutrality rules passed during the Obama administration, the topic has been on the lips of many segments of the population. Many of us consider a free an open Internet a necessity to foster innovation and investment, but the words from the lips of the big ISPs are changing, depending on whom they’re talking to.

The Internet Association, who went on record in 2015 in support local authority for Internet infrastructure investment, recently released a video about the fickle financial reporting of Comcast, AT&T, and Verizon.

The Internet Association describes the situation like this:

In our latest video, Internet Association takes a look at what Internet Service Providers (ISPs) told the government about net neutrality’s impact on investment and what they told their investors about its impact. They don’t quite match up.

Something to keep in mind: when companies like ISPs talk to their investors, they’re legally obligated to tell the truth.

The question of infrastructure investment is an important one because network investment helps the entire Internet economy grow and thrive. Innovative websites and apps fuel consumer demand for the Internet, which in turn fosters further network investment, which then fosters further innovation by websites and apps.

At Internet Association, we believe that the only way to preserve the free and open internet – and this cycle of innovation – is through strong, enforceable net neutrality rules like the ones currently on the books.

Check out the video and hear the contradictions from the lips CFOs who head up these big ISPs. What’s the real story here?

This article was originally published on ILSR’s[1]. Read the original here[2].

  2. here:

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Connecting Rural America: Internet Access for All – Episode 26 of the Building Local Power Podcast

by Nick Stumo-Langer | August 10, 2017 12:00 pm

This week, our Building Local Power[1] podcast contains a conversation between guest host Nick Stumo-Langer[2] and ILSR researchers Hannah Trostle[3] and Christopher Mitchell[4] to discuss the importance of connectivity in rural America and the barriers high quality local investment.

The group discusses a number of topics, including how electric cooperatives are changing the dynamic on who gets connectivity in America.

Click here for a full transcript[5] of this podcast conversation.

Finally, a number of barriers to rural connectivity come up throughout the conversation. This includes the millions of federal dollars that go to large companies such as AT&T and Century Link instead of small, local providers (or municipalities to invest in their own infrastructure).

“The answer is because AT&T, Century Link, Frontier, these other big companies are hoovering up all of the money that is available through services like the Universal Fund, which is now called Connect America through the Federal Communications Commission,” says Christopher Mitchell. “They’re giving out billions of dollars and they’re spending it on some of the worst products. You look at what AT&T is doing, AT&T is going to be getting $2.5 billion from the federal government to expand rural access. The speeds they are going do deliver, obsolete. The prices are $60 to $70 per month for this very slow service that has data caps. It’s awful.”


Here are some reading recommendations from the podcast today:

Hannah Trostle recommends The White Goddess[11] by Robert Graves, available from IndieBound here:[12].

Christopher Mitchell recommends Machine Man[13] by Max Barry, available from IndieBound here:[14].

Hannah Trostle and Christopher Mitchell both recommend Electricity for Rural America: The Fight for the REA[15] by Clayton Brown, available from IndieBound here:[16].

Nick Stumo-Langer recommends The Shell Collector[17] by Anthony Doerr, available from IndieBound here:[18].

Get caught up with the latest work from the Institute for Local Self-Reliance on fighting monopoly power and the state of broadband access across our economy:

WAMU’s 1A Show Covers Rural Connectivity With Christopher[19]

The Power and Perils of Cooperatives – Episode 12 of the Building Local Power Podcast[20]

Watch Video From Appalachian Ohio-West Virginia Connectivity Summit[21]

Access Appalachia: Internet Access for Rural America[22]

View the full transcript of the podcast, below.If you missed our previous episodes make sure to bookmark our Building Local Power [23]Podcast Homepage[24]. Please give us a review and rating on iTunes or wherever you subscribe to podcasts.

Full Transcript of Podcast:

Nick Stumo-Langer: So Hannah, rural broadband, it’s going to be really expensive, right? Something that we could never, ever invest in.
Hannah Trostle: That’s not true in any way. It’s pretty affordable overall. We just got a story out of Jackson county in Indiana. The Jackson county rural electric coop there is going to build out fiber to the home to its entire service area, 1,400 square miles, about 24,000 members for only $60 million in the next five years.
Nick Stumo-Langer: That seems really cheap. I’m shocked.
Hannah Trostle: It’s pretty reasonable overall.
Nick Stumo-Langer: Alright, that sounds great. We’re going to dig pretty deep on this issue of rural broadband access today on this episode of Building Local Power. My name is Nick Stumo-Langer and I’m the communications manager for the Institute for Local Self-Reliance. You just heard Hannah Trostle, who is a researcher for our Community Broadband Networks initiative. Also on the line is frequent host and founder of the Building Local Power Podcast, Christopher Mitchell.
Christopher Mitchell: Hey, good to hear from you.
Nick Stumo-Langer: Let’s break it down at the very beginning of this issue of rural broadband access. I’d like it if both of you could give our listeners a little bit of perspective on what the quality of rural broadband access is, what it is and the issues that we’re facing.
Christopher Mitchell: Sure. I think it might be interesting to note that I think I come at this from a little bit more of a detached perspective. I grew up not necessarily in large cities but in urban areas, moved through a number of them frankly. Whereas Hannah comes from a more rural part of Minnesota and so has a more direct relationship with this. But I have to say that I’m somewhat offended when I hear any claims that we just can’t connect rural populations with high quality access because we can.

We don’t have to settle for some kind of poor substitute, something that’s just merely cost effective and leaves rural areas with substantially worst access than one would find in urban areas. You can look at the numbers in terms of how much it cost when you it well. You can look at the long term costs. Frankly, it makes sense to connect rural communities with high quality access. I just say that’s where I’m coming from on this.

Hannah Trostle: Yeah, you could actually say that I’m a child of coops because my electric service growing up was from the electric coop from the next county over. My telephone service and internet service actually came through the telephone coop. Minnesota has a great tradition of cooperatives. It has really built up the rural areas of the state.
Christopher Mitchell: Nick, I want to come back and mention one other thing. Which is that this country has a long standing commitment to universal access, whether it’s through electricity, we made sure that just about everyone had access to it, telephones. It’s interesting, when I talk to rural groups in Wisconsin, I met a group that actually represents businesses all across Wisconsin. They noted that some of the first roads the state of Wisconsin built were to the dairies. That’s one of the reasons we think of Wisconsin as a dairy state, because once government built roads the marketplace for dairy products thrived.

There’s a couple of key points I always want to make. One is we have this historic commitment. The second is this is not charity. I can’t stress this enough, that this is something that we all benefit from. Making sure that people like Hannah grow up being able to be productive, being able to get a great education, being able to push the limits of their individual talents, that’s something that benefits all of us and it’s not something that urban areas should think smugly, “Oh, we’re doing this out of the goodness of our hearts.” Urban areas benefit when everyone has high quality infrastructure access.

Nick Stumo-Langer: Something we love on Building Local Power as you know are statistic. What is the current situation for rural America? How many people are not connected? How many people don’t have access to these high quality options?
Hannah Trostle: Let me go back to the last good statistic that came from the FCC as to that. That would have been about 39% of rural Americans did not have high quality internet access of 25 megabits per second by three megabits per second. The last statistic that came out for some reason decided to include satellite data. Satellite coverage is not a substitute for good internet service and so it has greatly skewed the latest statistic.
Christopher Mitchell: You see numbers anywhere from 19 million people in rural areas, to much higher numbers. I think 19 millions is people who can’t get any kind of DSL type of connection and there’s a higher number for people, it’s I think closer to 40 million, when you look at cannot get access to the higher quality broadband product.
Nick Stumo-Langer: That strikes me Chris, that we’re losing out on a lot of opportunity and a lot of productivity in these rural areas. What kinds of things are being shut out of these rural communities by not having high quality access? I know you mentioned some of them but enumerate them for our audience.
Christopher Mitchell: One of the things that has struck me for years was a conversation I had in rural Minnesota with a guy who had been working on what has become RS Fiber Coop, which is as you know one of incredibly successful approaches to rural broadband service. We’ve written about it in a report called Fertile Fields people can find on our website. But he said that his family had been farming a piece of land for, I believe it was, four or five generations. He and his wife were concerned that if they continued to live in that area without high quality broadband they would actually be harming their children. They were considering moving because their children would not have opportunities if they grew in this land that their family was so attached to. I just think that’s something that family should not have to make the choice over.

Frankly, they do not have to make the choice over when we get the policy right. The question is ultimately, how should we do it? What is the best approach from a perspective of quality and from a perspective of cost effectiveness, to make sure that everyone has high quality service? As I argue and as Hannah’s research has shown, we can do this. I think we can ultimately connect everyone who’s on the electric grid to high quality broadband service as well using some of these time tested methods which are in rural areas public ownership and cooperatives. I wouldn’t say that they’re equal answers. In areas that have cooperatives, that’s probably the best approach.

In areas that don’t have cooperatives, it may be smart to first see if you can create a new cooperative or get an existing cooperative to expand near you. But there’s also areas where you might have an enthusiastic local government, whether that’s a city county township where you can get the kind of competence you need to build a municipal network. In many cases municipal networks are working on these issues as well, but I think when we look at the vast amounts of territory involved, coops are probably the best solution. I think Hannah can tell us more about many coops that have done this, but one in particular that is showing what can be done.

Hannah Trostle: Yeah, across the US there are about 900 electric cooperatives and about 54 of those have some sort of project for improving internet access in their communities. One of the latest one that we saw was Tombigbee Electric Cooperative in Alabama. They have started a project called Freedom Fiber.
Christopher Mitchell: Freedom.
Hannah Trostle: Okay. Freedom Fiber, it’s going to start surveying two towns in early September. It’s going to be in one of the least served counties in the US. 75% of Marion County does not have access to broadband. Tombigbee Electric Cooperative is going to start building in the two largest population centers. It’s only going to be about $8 million, and then they’re going to build out over the next five years, serve the two biggest population centers in the county. And then it’s going to be another $30 million to build out to their entire service area.
Christopher Mitchell: One of the key issues that it’s worth noting is that when you look at these numbers, it comes down to sometimes $5,000 per household as you get in the lower density areas, and for a small number of households even more than that. But the cost of building electrical networks is actually greater than the cost of building fiber networks, if you talk a electric utilities that do both. You might wonder, “How did we ever build electricity out if it was so expensive and now we can’t built fiber out?” The answer is because AT&T, Century Link, Frontier, these other big companies are hoovering up all of the money that is available through services like the Universal Fund, which is now called Connect America through the Federal Communications Commission.

They’re giving out billions of dollars and they’re spending it on some of the worst products. You look at what AT&T is doing, AT&T is going to be getting $2.5 billion from the federal government to expand rural access. The speeds they are going do deliver, obsolete. The prices are $60 to $70 per month for this very slow service that has data caps. It’s awful. The amount that they’re getting per household is actually about $2,400, which would cover the cost of fiber in a lot of Indiana for rural areas per house, in Vermont we’re seeing this as well with the big telephone company there, Fairpoint, where they’re getting so much money that it’s almost the cost of building fiber, but because they’re focused on shareholder returns, they’re not putting it into fiber, they’re putting it into DSL and they’re going to look for future handouts to get higher quality service. There’s no doubt.

When you look at this you might be thinking, “Hannah’s saying that that’s really costly,” but actually it’s well within the realm of what we’re already subsidizing firms to build for obsolete technology. If we actually directed this to local institutions that wanted to invest in the communities, we would basically be there. There might be a need for some of those farther away farms to get a one time grant, but the cost of the ongoing service is actually low enough that these electric utilities will not need operating subsidies. They may need one time capital subsidies, and that’s totally affordable and totally doable, if we would just stop writing checks to AT&T and Century Link and Frontier and these other companies that have totally failed rural America.

Nick Stumo-Langer: To lay out the thread of what you’re saying here, millions and millions of rural Americans do not have high quality broadband internet access. We have solutions that we know are tried and true, building on the infrastructure of these cooperatives, these municipal utilities and even new infrastructure investments in these smaller communities that are going to be able to allow for local providers. But you see so much money getting siphoned to these monopolies and these giant political and market power entities, like AT&T and Century Link. How do we communicate that to those in power, to say, “Stop giving money to these people that are providing a terrible service for rural America?”
Christopher Mitchell: That is a very good question in terms of what we can actually do about it. In fact, when you look at building local power, it’s challenging. I’ll go back a little bit to a presentation I just gave in the Appalachians, in Marietta, Ohio, in south east Ohio. In that I was making the point that in rural Kentucky we already see some high quality fiber to the home networks in large areas of Kentucky because of coops that have reinvested historically in them.

After I spoke, one of the people came up to me and said, “Did you know that actually one of those areas that has fiber to the home is one of the poorest counties in the entire country, not just Kentucky?” They’ve been able to create jobs because of this, which I think makes the point first of all that this can be done when you have the right incentives and the right investments. But if you look at other areas of Kentucky, where we had local success stories, many of them are building wireless solutions. That’s because they’re making very rational decisions, which is to say the cost of building fiber is very expensive in the first few years.

It’s a very high capital cost and so lower income counties, counties that have bleak job prospects and people are unfortunately feeling that they have to move out of in order to get jobs, those counties don’t have the money to go and build fiber to the home. Now in talking to them, many of them realized that over 30 years the cost of operating and building wireless networks actually exceeds the cost of fiber optic networks. It’s just that fiber networks, they’re all front loaded and so what we have is a financing challenge that local communities themselves will really struggle to meet without innovative financing options like we saw in RS Fiber actually.

To a limited extent some local communities may be able to get around that but we absolutely need the federal government to help out in these areas. For that, we need rural folks to be educating themselves and demanding their representatives and their senators actually pursue what’s best for the county, rather that just what they hear is working inside the beltway of DC. The problem is, is that you need a federal government solution and that federal government solution is going to come from an area in which the only voices people listen to are AT&T and Century Link and Verizon and the big cable companies. We need to break through that kind of lobbyist power in DC in order to make sure that we have the right programs to finance these local solutions.

Nick Stumo-Langer: A point I know you made during your presentation at the Appalachian Connectivity Summit was that wireless has a little bit of a problem going through a mountain, has a little bit of a problem going through large areas, large fields where there may be telephone wires. I think that’s a good point to make for any one that is looking for a solutions. It’s good to look at this fiber that gets in the ground, that goes right to the house and that you understand person to person that you’re going to have good connectivity if you have a wire going to your house. You’re able to get on the internet. You have the upload speeds, the download speeds that you need, that type of thing.
Christopher Mitchell: Yes. I think it is worth remember that wireless is not magic. It does have problems, particularly in areas like West Virginia, in the Appalachians, in the Rockies. Now it is true that fiber is going to be much more expensive. In some cases it may be prohibitively expensive. Wireless could be a good short term solution but I think that we should not forget that we too electricity to just about everyone in the country and over time we can find ways of cost effectively getting fiber out to everyone if we look for the right entities, which are the cooperatives that will reinvest all of the gains until they connect everyone.
Hannah Trostle: We’ve seen a number of cooperatives work with both fiber and wireless solutions for rural areas. I was recently just looking at the Orcas Power and Light coop. They operate as Rock Island Communications. They took over an old DSL network and then they have been building fiber to the home out in San Juan County in Washington, which is about 20 islands. As they build from island to island, they’ve also been using wireless to connect further away islands. They’re hoping to cover their service area in mid-2018.
Christopher Mitchell: I think that’s one of the key issues, is recognizing that, the time element. People often forget about the time element but the coop is going to keep reinvesting and keep reinvesting. AT&T is going to keep extracting and keep extracting from the community. Over time, those trends, they’re either exciting if you’re a coop or really disturbing if you’re served by AT&T.
Nick Stumo-Langer: Both of you have mentioned rural electric cooperatives, cooperatives that are being formed around internet access, as well as municipal utilities being able to invest in these networks for themselves. I want to get a little bit of a sense of the barriers that exist to expansion, whether it’s to these municipalities or these rural electric cooperatives look at their neighbors, literally their neighbors and saying, “You deserve the internet access just like we have.” How is that coming up in the political scene or in any other way?
Christopher Mitchell: It varies from state to state. We have seen many municipalities that have their own fiber networks wanting to share it. Now, partially this is self interested, in that they have a large investment and a fixed cost of … had investments that include network operating center and the ability to deliver television signals and things like that, where if they can spread it across a wider base it’s going to be much less risky and they’ll have a greater return with which those who make a profit often reinvest in the community.

But many communities also recognize the benefits of a strong region, and so you see communities like Chattanooga fighting got the right to expand to their neighbors when the state will not allow them to. Tennessee has literally chosen rather than allowing cities like Morristown, Jackson, Tullahoma, Pulaski, Chattanooga to expand at no cost to tax payers. Tennessee is taking $45 million of state tax payer money and trying to give it to companies like AT&T, because AT&T is so powerful in the state.

It’s incredibly frustrating to see that municipalities that have been incredibly successful, I think Chattanooga made $20 in net income last year, they’re not able to use that to better their surrounding communities because the state has decided instead it wants to use tax payer dollars to throw at a company like AT&T, that is literally delivering a service that is 1,000 times slower at a greater cost to the rural areas. Now Hannah’s also tracked a number of barriers to rural electric coops, which actually violate federal law but state still have them in place.

Hannah Trostle: A lot of these barriers for cooperatives are actually based around funding. They prevent the coops from using department of agriculture money to build networks for internet service. Now a number of states have started to encourage cooperatives to invest in fiber networks. They have passed some laws straight up saying, “Yes, electric coops, you should do this. This would be great.” That would be Tennessee.

Then, there are cases like in Indiana, where the state realized that they needed to explain some issues with [pole 00:19:47] attachments and they passed an act called the fiber act, specifically to encourage to coops to use their existing infrastructure. They had to actually allow the coops to use all their easements that they previously had. North Carolina is the state that had prevented electric coops from providing internet service.

There have a been a number of little ways around it, such as partnering with other telephone coops or local telephone companies or not directly offering internet service to the public but having dark fiber. I know one had to create a subsidiary called, I think it was [Columbia 00:20:26] River Electric coop had to create a subsidiary called Blue Wave Connections. The rules around coops are complicated and they vary so much state to state.

Nick Stumo-Langer: Yeah. It really strikes me that our research and your expertise, both of you, runs the gamut from these great state programs and investment programs, and I guess even just the infrastructure allowing these cooperatives to invest, such as Minnesota, to all the way to North Carolina where it seems like the state legislatures, the state government in general is not wanting their rural areas that are already disadvantaged and areas that are losing population and losing economic vitality, to make themselves better. It seems like a no brainer to me that these communities should be able to invest in better internet access and all the benefits that come with it, but it seems like an odd thing. Why are these state legislatures so against this investment?
Christopher Mitchell: You have to recognize that the people working in stage legislature, the elected officials, many of them mean well and they’re really trying to represent the best interest of their community. Let’s give them the benefit of the doubt. I think North Carolina has some exceptions in particular. But they are very limited in their capacity. They have almost no staff to help them understand issues. Many of them are normal people who have not studied these issues in depth. They’re people who have other jobs.

The only people they can get information from are lobbyists because there is not a local group that is going to inform an elected official in North Carolina or Tennessee about the public interest view on telecom. Telecom is kind of this forgotten thing. If you’re working in energy, there’s lots of environmental groups that are working it. They’re still totally outnumbered but in telecom there’s practically no one. State legislatures are really at the mercy of these big cable and telephone company lobbyists.

That’s to some extend why even though we oppose additional barriers and we try to work with state legislatures where we can, one of the things that’s so exciting about cooperatives is that largely they can make investments that work. They may have to jump through some hoops as Hannah was describing, but people who are listening who are served by an electric or a telephone coop and they’re unhappy with their broadband service should contact their coop board. They should talk to their neighbors and organize local businesses to demand that the coop do something about it.

This is something that we have a ton of resource on at, the website that houses most of our broadband work. A lot of it is work that Hannah’s done. There’s a number of interviews also that I’ve done with electric coops about this. We’ve created a wealth of resources for people who want to learn more about how they can push their own coops to solve this problem for them.

Nick Stumo-Langer: As we’re heading toward the end here, I think it would be useful for our audience to have a little bit of connective tissue with some of our other Building Local Power episodes. How does internet access, how does local investment for high quality internet access fit in the philosophy of the Institute for Local Self-Reliance? How does this all fit together? Can you map that for us, either of you?
Christopher Mitchell: The Institute for Local Self-Reliance is really focused on how to make the maximum use of your resources locally, how to make sure you have a lot of political and economic power locally. Without economic power, you struggle to have political power. Which is to say that if your community’s dependent on jobs from Walmart and other massive firms, you probably don’t have much control over the future of your community. Now if you are generating electricity locally, that means that money you’re paying for for this thing that everyone uses is staying in the community, it’s recycling in the community.

If you are doing that with your broadband service as well, then not only are you keeping that money in the community, often you’re going to have much better broadband service. Which mean you’re going to have better job prospects, you’re going to have higher property values, you’re going to be a place that people want to come to, which is going to make your community more valuable.

It’s going to make it easier to have this positive cycle of investment in the community and creating a virtuous circle. It’s hard to have a thriving economy today without a high quality broadband option. It will be even harder tomorrow. Without those high quality jobs and that sort of investment, it’s harder to be a place that people want to live. This all basically comes together and helps you to be more self-reliant.

Nick Stumo-Langer: This has been such a great conversation. Very informative for me and I’m sure for our listeners on how rural broadband fits into this whole mission statement. Something we do every week is we ask our guests for a reading recommendation. I’d like to ask both of you, do you have a reading recommendation? Watching, listening, anything that would be great for our listeners to experience. Hannah?
Hannah Trostle: The book that I’m going to recommend is not at all related to this topic. It is a book that I have been reading at night. It is called The White Goddess by Robert Graves. It is a very old book. It’s called a grammar of poetic myth, but it’s more like an autobiography about Graves’ life and how his research consumed him.
Nick Stumo-Langer: Great, thank you. Chris?
Christopher Mitchell: Let me start with the book that I’m reading at night right now, which is a book called Machine Man by Max Barry. It really captures a kind of leftist snarky author’s take on an engineer approaching the world. I’m loving it for all these asides and things like that. If you like snark and if you like that kind of left wing perspective, this book really nails it. I would also say that Max Barry’s books in general, I’ve read most of them, really cover well what happens if we do not restrain in very large corporate power. They’re often near future dystopic novels in which corporations have much more control over our lives.

But I would say that a recommendation that I can recommend from both Hannah and I, because we both read this and we both found it amazing because it was on topic and I think far more interesting than I expected, is a book called Electricity For Rural American, The Fight For the REA, which is the Rural Electrification Administration. It’s by Clayton Brown. It’s a book that’s almost 40 years old I think. I got it because I wanted to know the history.

I literally was thinking to myself, “Alright, this is going to put me to sleep for a few weeks but I’m going to get through it. I opened it up and I got sucked in. It was almost like a mystery. I found it to be incredibly exciting the way the … It was almost like this suspense thriller of how the REA came to pass, the people behind it, the interest, the talking points from the big companies at the time, which were trying to oppose these coops. I have to say, if you can find it I highly recommend it.

Hannah Trostle: I just wanted to add that there’s a fascinating section in the middle of it about the design of a report cover. It’s kind of off topic but it’s such a human element to this book. It’s about how they really liked putting red barns on their report covers to try to encourage the man who was in charge to read them because they knew he really liked red barns.
Nick Stumo-Langer: That’s a great small little element of that. I’ll give my recommended as well. I’ll keep it pretty short. I’ve been reading a lot of short story collections this summer. One that I can’t recommend enough is The Shell Collector by Anthony Doerr. There’s a number of different stories in here that go into the human experience, the intersection with nature. Really, really fun.

Short stories, as I’m kind of learning because I haven’t really gotten into them too much before, is that you can just read a little bit. You read the story, it’s like 30, 40, 50 pages, and then you can completely get out of that world. You’re not sucked in. You don’t have to spend hours and hours reading the same book. It’s great. Thank you so much Chris and Hannah for joining me today, it was a great discussion.

Christopher Mitchell: Thank you.
Hannah Trostle: Thanks, Nick.
Nick Stumo-Langer: You can find all the links to what we discussed today on on the show page. You can go to our website to help us produce more podcasts, have more information for you. Click on the show page for this episode. You can also sign up for our newsletters, connect with us on Facebook and Twitter and rate this podcast on iTunes, Stitcher or where you find your podcast. A big thank you for our theme music, that’s Funk Interlude by Dysfunction Al. For the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, I’m Nick Stumo-Langer. Thank you so much for listening for this episode of Building Local Power.

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Audio Credit: Funk Interlude[25] by Dysfunction_AL Ft: Fourstones – Scomber (Bonus Track). Copyright 2016 Licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution Noncommercial (3.0)[26] license.

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  20. The Power and Perils of Cooperatives – Episode 12 of the Building Local Power Podcast:
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Orange County And Its Schools Work For Fiber In Virginia

by Lisa Gonzalez | August 8, 2017 5:00 am

With a growing need for fast, affordable, reliable connectivity, an increasing number of schools are constructing fiber optic infrastructure to serve their facilities. In some cases, they partner with local government and a collaboration eventually leads to better options for an entire community. Schools in Orange County, Virginia, will be working with county government[1] to build a $1.3 million network.


Quickly Growing Community

Orange County’s population of approximately 34,000 people is growing rapidly, having increased by 29 percent between 2000 and 2010. Nevertheless, it’s primarily rural with no large cities. Gordonsville (pop. 1,500) and Orange (pop. 4,800 and the county seat) are the only towns. Another community called Lake of the Woods is a census-designated place where about 7,200 people live. The rest of the county is filled with unincorporated communities. There are 343 square miles in Orange County of rolling hills with the Blue Ridge Mountains to the west.

Manufacturing and retail are large segments of the economy with 65 percent of all business having four or less employees as of 2013. Agriculture is also an important part of the community, including the growing local wine industry.


Working Together To Connect The County

The county and schools have teamed up to commence a multi-step project that begins by connecting the Orange County Public Schools[2]’ facilities. A 33-mile wide area network (WAN) will connect all eight buildings. Federal E-rate funds will pay for approximately 80 percent of the deployment costs and Orange County and the school district will share the remaining costs from other funding. The partners plan to deploy extra capacity for future uses.

Once the first phase of the network is complete, the county hopes to use the excess capacity to improve public safety operations. Sheriff, Fire, and EMS services need better communications so the county intends to invest in additional towers, which will also create an opportunity for fixed wireless and cellular telephone providers.

The OCBbA wants to eventually use the new infrastructure to improve access for residents and businesses. The network will be made available to ISPs interested in offering services in the area.

“Orange is a very under-served area when it comes to Internet connectivity. This will allow them the backbone and the ability now to come off the backbone and get the internet to our citizens,” Darell Hatfield, Orange County Public Schools director of technology said.


Starting At The Beginning

The Orange County Broadband Authority (OCBbA) formed in the spring of 2016 and established the initiative to develop an open access network aimed at improving rural connectivity. While the first two phases of the network that will serve educational and public safety needs seem assured, the OCBbA’s plan to do more is not a certainty. They also want to expand the network across the northern section of the county, but do not have an implementation date or funding yet.

The county hopes high-speed Internet serves as the gateway to attract new businesses and create a better quality of life.

“We’re pretty confident we’re on the right path of getting the infrastructure in place, and then it’s just whatever the mind can be creative about how to apply that technology,” Bryan David, Orange County administrator, said.

Check out the OCBbA presenation about Strategic Priorities here[3].

This article was originally published on ILSR’s[4]. Read the original here[5].

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The Broadband Market is Broken: Don’t Fall for Telecom Lobbyist Lies

by Lisa Gonzalez | August 3, 2017 7:41 am

We’ve all been lied to, but when we’re lied to by those we rely on, it’s the worst. Right now, we are all subject to a lie about our Internet access. That lie is rooted in the idea that the best way to move forward is to allow the free market to dictate our access to the Internet, along with the quality of services, privacy protections, and competition.

The big ISPs try to tell us “it’s a competitive market,” then they tell their shareholders competition is scarce. They tell legislators they fear competing against relatively small municipal networks and cooperatives that only serve singular regions but they have subscribers in vast swaths across the country. Federal decision makers tout the benefits of competition, but approve consolidation efforts by a few powerful companies that are already behemoths. This reality is The Big Lie.

What can we do about it? First, understand the cause of the problem. Next, share that understanding. We’ve created this short video to explain The Big Lie; we encourage you to share it and to check out our other resources. Our fact sheets[1] and reports[2] are a great place to start if you’re looking for a way to improve connectivity in your community. Don’t forget to check out our other videos[3], too.

This article was originally published on ILSR’s[4]. Read the original here[5].

  1. fact sheets:
  2. reports:
  3. our other videos:
  5. here:

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Brief History of Solid Waste Management and Recycling in Washington, DC

by Neil Seldman | August 2, 2017 10:49 am

The history of solid waste and recycling in the District of Columbia is long and diverse. In the early years of the 20th Century low-income girls and women were hired to pick through garbage on sorting tables to recover materials. In the more recent past, recycling of newspapers and metals was a key fundraising tool for community organizations in the District. Walter Pierce, for whom Community Park West in Adams Morgan was named, led many recycling drives to raise funds for uniforms for DC’s classic Ghetto Invitation Tournament that operated through the mid 1970s and early 1990s, helping many young men gain access to college.

Commercial recycling was sustained by ‘scrappies’ or ‘junk yards’ even as they scaled down from the heyday during WW II. The city was served for many years by Georgetown Junk, ABC Salvage, and others. Super Salvage located in Buzzard Point in SW DC is the last remaining scrap yard in the District.

Recycling in DC – as in all cities – is tied to the solid waste management system of DC.

1968 was an important year in solid waste management for the District. The Kenilworth Dump was created by the city adjacent to the Kenilworth neighborhood in Northeast DC in the early 1940s as the city’s population boomed during World War II. The Dump was a dump. Despite widespread complaints from the surrounding neighborhood, garbage was tipped and burned in the open. In 1968 a young boy was accidentally burned to death while playing amongst the fires. First Lady Lady Bird Johnson led the campaign to shut down the operations. A ‘sanitary’ landfill was built on the site, which served the city until the 1970s.

The Marion Barry Administrations (1979-1991) took an important step forward but ultimately put the city at a disadvantage in solid waste management. Barry made DC one of the first cities in the country to distribute wheeled and covered carts to each household in a strategy to address the rat infestation problems plaguing major parts of the city. A fleet of new trucks with mechanical lifts was employed. However, solid waste management, in general, was ignored for the rest of his administration. The trucks were not replaced and a depleted fleet maintenance system could not keep the trucks on the road. Further investment in the Ft. Totten and Benning Road waste transfer stations, key assets of the city, were reduced so that the hydraulic systems were down 25% of the time. During Mayor Tony Williams’ Administration (1999-2007), the city faced the daunting task of not having enough trucks each morning to service the 45 garbage routes.

The DuPont Circle Neighborhood Ecology Corporation drop-off recycling program emerged in the 1970s out of a conglomeration of nascent drop-off centers established in Mount Pleasant, Adams Morgan and DuPont Circle. By late 1988, recycling consciousness in the city, as in cities across the US, helped Councilmember Nadine Winter pass a mandatory recycling law for households and businesses.

The Barry Administration had to comply, but with little enthusiasm. It did introduce curbside recycling collection. But curbside recycling was subsequently dropped two times by the city only to be reestablished after citizen complaints were taken up by numerous environmental organizations and community activists including Benneta Bullock Washington, wife of DC’s first elected Mayor Walter Washington. The city did establish a Solid Waste Advisory Commission with appointments made by each City Council member and the Mayor, as required by the recycling law. But recycling stagnated for decades as the Commission was ignored and then discontinued. Recycling stagnated, as the Department of Public Works at first was antagonistic to recycling and then became indifferent to its fate. The agency embraced incineration as the so-called ‘proper’ solution for the District, by supporting either a plant built in DC or joint ventures with neighboring jurisdictions. Recycling was seen as a needless activity and a costly added burden. The DC Sierra Club and Common Cause successfully sued the city to comply with the recycling law, but it had little immediate effect.

The recycling program was contracted out to a private hauling firm, Waste Management, Inc. Recycling participation continued to stagnate. The only improvement under the DPW was the decision to contract with a nearby composting company, Pogo, in Sunshine, MD, to take from 5,000-8,000 tons of fall leaves instead of mixing the leaves with garbage at city transfer stations and trucking to an incinerator or landfill. Brenda Platt of ILSR and Dr. Rosalie Greene of the US EPA worked for three years to establish the redirection of leaves from incineration/landfill to composting at a favorable price compared to incineration. They worked closely with the DPW on a pilot fall leaf composting program, first at Eastover Park in southeast DC in 2004, and then at the Oak Hill Youth Detention Center property in Laurel, MD, in 2005-06. The pilots were critical in demonstrating the success of leaf composting but without sufficient investment in staffing and front-end loader maintenance, ultimately ILSR recommended contracting with Pogo to accept the City’s fall leaves. Further, under its arrangement with Pogo, the city was able to buy back finished compost and mulch at reduced prices. By composting fall leaves the city raised its household recycling rate from about 20% to 25%.

In 1995, Councilmember Harry Thomas Sr. commissioned ILSR to prepare a report on solid waste and recycling. The report focused on the transfer stations as the weak link in the system and urged the city to renovate the facilities to improve the efficiency of the system and use these invaluable assets to serve both the city and the private sector. By allowing the private sector to use public facilities, the city could better amortize their investment as well as provide a surplus that could be invested in recycling and waste reduction.

ILSR also prepared a report for the AFSCME Local that represented DPW workers showing that unionized city workers could operate the recycling program better and at the same cost as Waste Management, Inc. City workers knew the routes far better than Waste Management, Inc. workers, who had high turnover rates, and therefore missed stops and resulted in the public flooding the offices of City Council members with complaints. The transition to a city work force for recycling ensued.

The efficient new transfer stations were not used to help finance recycling. But the improved transfer facilities served to alleviate the crippling development of improper private transfer stations popping up across the city even in residential neighborhoods. The Washington Coliseum for example had become a transfer station, stinking up the community, destroying streets and drastically reducing real estate values. The city had no regulations to prevent the private operators.

The deterioration of the city’s solid waste infrastructure forced the city under Mayor Williams to address the issue full on. The Williams Administration with the support of City Council chair Carol Schwartz put together a financial package that allowed the city to purchase a new fleet of collection trucks that would serve garbage routes and recycling routes. The uniform trucks allowed the fleet maintenance department to improve its efficiently. Williams created a worker management committee, which brought union members into the discussions. Drivers were asked to evaluate trucks prior to purchasing. ILSR worked with the Williams Administration to strike an accord with the private transfer stations: the private companies would be able to use the public transfer facilities at a low rate in exchange for closing down the offending transfer stations throughout the city.

Recycling remained stagnant under the hostile eyes of the DPW. Increased pressure from environmental organizations and citizens pressed the City Council to take action resulting in the “Sustainable Solid Waste Management Amendment Act of 2014,” which provided a pathway forward. The DPW was put on notice to start gathering data from the private sector for the first time. The DPW was also ordered to look into the feasibility of unit pricing for garbage collection (Save As You Throw, SAYT1[1]) and to develop a comprehensive composting program, as well as a waste reduction program. Mayor Bowser appointed an entirely new staff to lead the DPW, who have responded well to the mandate of the 2014 legislation. Negotiations coordinated by Chris Weiss of the DC Environmental Network and newly appointed DPW director Chris Shorter led to the formation of a citizen advisory committee that meets quarterly.

The city’s recycling rate is still well below the national average of 35% and far below the recycling levels reached by other major cities, some of which are recycling over 70% of their solid waste. DC’s non recycled municipal solid waste is sent to incinerators and landfills in Virginia. The city’s estimated 25,000 tons of recycled metal, glass, paper and plastic are sent to a Waste Management Inc. facility in Elkridge, MD, where they are processed for markets. Transportation costs the city close to $1 million a year. Processing at this very large materials recovery facility (MRF) is not efficient and a good percentage of materials, especially glass and plastic are not recovered but used by Waste Management, Inc., as landfill cover. ILSR contends that the city should contract with a closer-in facility, which is properly scaled for more efficient processing of recovered materials to reduce the costs of recycling. DC pays $120 per ton for recycling. Thirty miles up the road, Baltimore is paying $20 per ton to recycle, less than half of what Baltimore pays to incinerate its garbage, $50 per ton. DC pays $46 per ton to incinerate waste at the Lorton, VA garbage incinerator. The Energy Justice Network has compiled information about the environmental impact of garbage incineration on the District.2[2]

Recycling will have a much brighter future in DC under the current DPW leadership. A comprehensive composting program can boost recycling levels by 20%. We support a decentralized and diverse approach, one that for instance prioritizes backyard and community scale composting for gardens and food production in DC’s neighborhoods over large-scale industrialized sized facilities that are far away. The DPW has already initiated a Ward based drop-off program for haulers and citizens in anticipation of a comprehensive effort to get organics out of the city’s waste stream. School-based food waste collection for composting is a program of the DC Department of General Services. The DC Parks and Recreation also runs the community composting cooperative network at 50 DPR gardens and partner sites in each of the City’s Wards. These are key avenues for the city to engage citizens in the whys and wherefores of composting.

Further ILSR contends that the city can use the public transfer stations to raise capital for support of an expanded recycling program. The city’s rates for private haulers are well below market rates in the area. An increased charge of just $1 per ton disposed at the Ft. Totten and Benning Road transfer stations could provide an estimated $700,000 annually. These annual funds would allow the city to lower the cost of recycling through co-collection, distributed composting, unit pricing, development of a reuse hub for refurbishing enterprises and by reevaluating single stream collection and the Extended Producer Responsibility regulations for electronic scrap in the 2014 law.

As always, a highly effective recycling, composting and reuse system needs constant citizen vigilance and participation. The DC Sierra Club Zero Waste Committee, the DC Environmental Network, ILSR and many individual citizens form the nucleus of recycling activism in DC.


  1. Also known as Pay As You Throw, PAYT, and Save Money & Reduce Trash, SMART. The total price is $45.59 per ton. DC pays $34.64 per ton for tipping waste at the Covanta incinerator in Lorton, plus $10.95 per ton to Lucky Dog hauling company for hauling the waste to Lorton.
  2. See,[3].

Photo Credit: thisisbossi via Flickr[4] (CC 2.0[5]).

Follow the Institute for Local Self-Reliance on Twitter[6] and Facebook[7] and, for monthly updates on our work, sign-up[8] for our ILSR general newsletter.

  1. 1: #A1
  2. 2: #A2
  4. thisisbossi via Flickr:
  5. CC 2.0:
  6. Twitter:
  7. Facebook:
  8. sign-up:

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Zero is the Hero: Zero Net Energy Buildings Reach New Communities, Promising Savings, and Renewable Energy

by Matthew Douglas-May | August 2, 2017 10:02 am

As energy efficiency and renewable energy technologies continue to improve both functionally and economically, Zero Net Energy (ZNE) buildings are spreading in communities around the country. The energy savings and environmental benefits of ZNE buildings, which produce as much energy using on-site renewables as they consume, are catching the attention of city leaders, regulators, and individuals nationwide.

In May 2017 Santa Clara, California became the first city in the world[1] to include ZNE requirements in its building code, requiring all new single-family residential construction to be ZNE. Cambridge, Massachusetts plans to follow Santa Monica’s footsteps with goals to phase in ZNE[2] in all new construction between 2020 and 2030 starting with commercial buildings and finishing with energy intensive laboratories. These moves follow statewide goals set in 2007[3] by the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) for all new residential construction to be ZNE by 2020 and all new commercial construction to be ZNE by 2030. Many other cities like Fort Collins, Colorado, and Austin, Texas, have also made ZNE plans and goals[4].

On the national level, the New Buildings Institute (NBI) estimates that the number of “ZNE certified and emerging projects” increased by 74%[5] in 2016 alone.


Why Zero Net Energy?

The shift toward ZNE buildings is well underway, but what are the benefits and the costs it brings?

The energy drawn from the grid and consumed by a ZNE building, including electricity, natural gas, hot water, and others, is matched over the course of a year by electricity generation from on-site renewables, usually solar. In addition, energy efficiency measures reduce these buildings’ energy needs and costs. In the 41 states, four territories, and Washington, D.C.[6] where building owners can sell solar energy back to the grid with net metering, ZNE buildings will essentially have no energy bill, or even receive net revenue from surplus solar generation, promising significant savings for renters, owners, and all building stakeholders. Still, the energy efficient appliances, special building design, and solar panel installations make ZNE buildings more expensive upfront than non-ZNE buildings. The big question is, do overall ZNE savings offset the greater price of the buildings themselves? (more…)[7]

  1. Santa Clara, California became the first city in the world:
  2. goals to phase in ZNE:
  3. statewide goals set in 2007:
  4. ZNE plans and goals:
  5. increased by 74%:
  6. 41 states, four territories, and Washington, D.C.:
  7. (more…):

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Fishing for Local Power – Episode 25 of the Building Local Power Podcast

by Nick Stumo-Langer | July 27, 2017 12:00 pm

This week’s episode of Building Local Power[1] is a great conversation with a close ally and friend of the Institute for Local Self-Reliance. Niaz Dorry[2], coordinating director of the Northwest Atlantic Marine Alliance, sits down with hosts Christopher Mitchell[3] and Stacy Mitchell[4] to talk about the growing privatization of the fishing industry, how she organizes her fishing community, and the damage that large-scale fishing does to the environment and her local economy.

Full transcript is available here[5].

This conversation offers a great on-the-ground perspective on what privatization looks like and how it harms local groups and small-scale operations.

“The players that want to privatize the ocean, and consolidate the fishing industry, sometimes are the same players we’re fighting in other parts of our social justice movements, but for some reason, we’ve not transferred that knowledge and the strategies we’ve used in other movements, to the ocean work.” says Niaz Dorry[2] of her work in organizing around these issues. “We just decided that doing very basic things, like eating fish that’s on the green list, or buying certified seafood, we’ve done our part. That’s not enough. Those were good steps forward. We know too much about what’s happened in the rest of our society, and we know too much about what’s happened in the fishing industry, to stop there.”


Here are some reading recommendations from our guest, Niaz Dorry[2]:


From Mother Jones’ March/April 2017 Issue:


  1. Building Local Power:
  2. Niaz Dorry:
  3. Christopher Mitchell:
  4. Stacy Mitchell:
  5. available here: #transcript
  6. [Image]:
  7. Play in new window:
  8. Download:
  9. Android:
  10. RSS:
  11. [Image]:
  12. (more…):

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Times Editors: Rural Virginia Deserves Better Connectivity

by Lisa Gonzalez | July 24, 2017 5:23 pm

People who live in rural America have known for a long time that urban areas have better access to Internet services. Recently, however, the issue has become a hot topic of conversation and analysis by policy experts, lawmakers, and the telecommunications industry. In a recent editorial by Virginia’s Roanoke Times[1], the outlet’s leadership explained why “Third World standards” for Internet access won’t do for people who, by choice or circumstance, live in rural areas.

“Third World Connectivity”

The editors at the Times point to reporting done by the Wall Street Journal (reprinted here by MSN Money[2]) that describes how rural America’s lack of high-quality Internet access puts it on the same economic footing as “the new inner city.” The Times quotes the WSJ:

Keep in mind the Journal is not some liberal organ typically associated with calling for more government intervention; editorially, this is the conservative voice of the nation’s business community. Its view (like ours) is purely an economic one: “Counties without modern Internet connections can’t attract new firms, and their isolation discourages the enterprises they have . . . Reliance on broadband includes any business that uses high-speed data transmission, spanning banks to insurance firms to factories.”

While the urban areas of the state average connectivity higher than the national average, much of the state – the rural areas – must contend with speeds that compare with countries like Ecuador, Costa Rica, and Nigeria.

countryside.jpgThe editors at the Times point out that, much like in the 1930s when President Franklin D. Roosevelt vowed to electrify every rural community, private firms don’t venture where lack of profit doesn’t justify an investment. “This points the way to one possible fix that even the Journal highlights: Government intervention,” writes the Times editors.

But they understand the hurdles that exist today that weren’t so high when Roosevelt was working his plan to light up the farms. Public efforts to connect rural America face hurdles from giant telecommunications companies who fear any competition today or in the future. Lobbying at the state level is powerful.

We saw an example of that in the most recent General Assembly, where Del. Kathy Byron, R-Bedford County, sponsored a bill[3] that would have crippled existing municipal broadband authorities (such as the Roanoke Valley Broadband Authority) and made it difficult for new ones to form.

Byron was inexplicably working against her own constituents’ interests. Forest averages 8.4 mbps, slower than Sri Lanka. Bedford averages 6.3 mbps, just barely faster than Peru. Byron’s ideology may be pure, but when it comes to a key part of modern infrastructure, her constituents are living under Third World conditions.

That ideological purity is also simply wrong. If telecoms could make money in these rural areas, they would. They can’t. So should we just let them wither and die?


  1. recent editorial by Virginia’s Roanoke Times:
  2. reprinted here by MSN Money:
  3. Del. Kathy Byron, R-Bedford County, sponsored a bill:
  4. (more…):

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Three Forces Fighting Local Renewable Energy and Three Ways to Fight Back

by John Farrell | July 24, 2017 2:00 pm

If you’re reading energy news of late, you might have come across three new ways that forces are aligning against local renewable energy. State governments are increasingly pre-empting local authority on a range of issues, including energy. Utility companies are undercutting state regulation with their legislative lobbyists. And utilities are also bringing their monopoly market power to bear in previously competitive markets.

We’ll detail examples of each of these three disturbing trends, and ways to fight back.

State Preemption

One of the most disturbing trends in politics is that of states preempting local authority.

Across many economic sectors, we at the Institute for Local Self-Reliance identify ways that cities can take charge of their local economy. In energy, that includes ideas like a city takeover (municipalization) of the utility, banning fracking, or increasing franchise fees charged to private, monopoly utilities for use of public property to deliver energy services.

Unfortunately, some state legislatures have decided to reduce local authority to make these moves. Through municipalization laws passed decades ago, states preempted or limited local authority to take over utilities, instead favoring state regulation and oversight. State lawmakers In Colorado in 2016 passed a law that overturns local bans on gas fracking[1]. In 2017, the Minnesota legislature considered a bill[2] that would add complexity when cities consider changes to franchise fees, despite ample public notice and deliberation required by cities that have such fees.

While there aren’t numerous examples of local energy policy preemption, we fear it may grow as states become more accustomed to preempting cities[3], or making it expensive for local governments to exercise authority. In Arizona, for example, differences of opinion in a variety of areas of regulation prompted the state government to threaten to withhold local government aid[4] to cities that enact ordinances that conflict with the priorities of the legislature and governor.

States themselves are facing a preemption threat as well, with U.S. Energy Secretary Perry suggesting[5] he may find ways to favor large-scale fossil fuel power plants over renewable energy producers. (more…)[6]

  1. law that overturns local bans on gas fracking:
  2. considered a bill:
  3. states become more accustomed to preempting cities:
  4. state government to threaten to withhold local government aid:
  5. suggesting:
  6. (more…):

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Co-ops and Counties Improving Indiana Connectivity

by Lisa Gonzalez | July 24, 2017 5:44 am

Like other states with significant rural populations, local communities in Indiana have been working to come up with ways to improve connectivity for residents and businesses. Two more areas in Indiana can expect better connectivity as county government invests for economic development and a rural electric co-op decides its time to offer Internet access to members.

Jackson County Rural Electric Membership Corporation

In the south central section of the state, Jackson County Rural Electric Membership Corporation (REMC) serves members in ten counties. Their members don’t live in areas in and around the larger towns in the region because most of those premises already had electric service when REMC obtained a federal loan to electrify the area in 1937. Their service area covers about 1,400 square miles and they serve 24,200 members.

In June, the cooperative announced that it had approved a five-year plan to provide Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) connectivity to every member in its service area. In their press release[1], REMC compared the project to rural electrification, which launched the cooperative, and wrote:

Several factors were taken into consideration: enhancing the quality of life for members, agricultural and agribusiness needs, providing an enhanced path for education and healthcare opportunities, keeping our communities economically viable, and developing a plan where no REMC member is eft out. All of these facts fall under Cooperative Principle #7: Concern for Community.

A Big Project

REMC will invest approximately $5.43 million for the project’s first phase; the entire project will cost $20 million in Jackson County alone. The investment for REMC’s entire service area will be $60 million. Co-op officials estimate the project will be cash positive in three years and will be completely paid for in 16 years.

In June, Jackson County Council unanimously approved a tax abatement for the cost of phase 1[2], which establishes the backbone for the system and snakes through most of the counties in REMC’s service area. Phase 1 will also include an opportunity to test the network by connecting approximately 990 members in order to work out problems before offering services to members across the entire network.

According to the local Crothersville Times[3], local realtors have expressed concern about the county’s lack of high-quality connectivity, said Executive Director of Jackson County Industrial Development Corporation Jim Plump. (more…)[4]

  1. In their press release:
  2. unanimously approved a tax abatement for the cost of phase 1:
  3. the local Crothersville Times:
  4. (more…):

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Watch Video From Appalachian Ohio-West Virginia Connectivity Summit

by Lisa Gonzalez | July 20, 2017 9:58 am

If you weren’t able to make it to the Appalachian Ohio-West Virginia Connectivity Summit in Marietta, Ohio[1], on July 18th or if you’re just interested in learning more about improving connectivity in rural areas, you can still almost be there. Video of Christopher’s keynote address is available to view.

The event occurred on July 18th at Washington State Community College in Marietta, Ohio. In addition to Christopher’s presentation, there was a panel discussion about community ownership models. Other experts offering information included Marty Newell from the Center for Rural Strategies, Kate Forscey from Public Knowledge, and former chairwoman of the FCC Mignon L. Clyburn, who also spoke at a Town Hall that evening.

For more information on connecting rural America, including the Appalachian regions, check out these resources:


More Resources:

Access Appalachia page[2] – Our page includes federal statistics on broadband availability and federal subsidies for large Internet Service Providers. Find toolkits and detailed maps of 150 counties in Kentucky, Southeast Ohio, and northern West Virginia.

Central Appalachia Broadband Policy Recommendations[3] from the Central Appalachia Regional Network

The Fiber Broadband Association’s Community Toolkit[4] from the Fiber Broadband Association

Broadband Planning Primer and Toolkit[5] from the Appalachian Regional Commission


Get more information from:

Appalshop[6] of Whitesburg, Kentucky

Blandin Foundation[7]

Common Cause[8]

Center for Rural Strategies[9]

Public Knowledge[10]

Generation West Virginia[11]

This article was originally published on ILSR’s[12]. Read the original here[13].

  1. the Appalachian Ohio-West Virginia Connectivity Summit in Marietta, Ohio:
  2. Access Appalachia page:
  3. Central Appalachia Broadband Policy Recommendations:
  4. The Fiber Broadband Association’s Community Toolkit:
  5. Broadband Planning Primer and Toolkit:
  6. Appalshop:
  7. Blandin Foundation:
  8. Common Cause:
  9. Center for Rural Strategies:
  10. Public Knowledge:
  11. Generation West Virginia:
  13. here:

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RS Fiber Upgrades: Gigabit Speeds With No Price Increase

by Lisa Gonzalez | July 18, 2017 5:00 am

As if bringing high-quality connectivity to rural central Minnesota wasn’t enough, RS Fiber Cooperative has recently established the “Cornerstone Member” program[1]. Now that gigabit connectivity is available, existing residential customers can upgrade from 100 Megabits per second (Mbps) with no price increase. As long as they continue service uninterrupted through 2017, they offer stands.

General Manager Toby Brummer:

“We wanted to do something for those customers who made that early commitment to RS Fiber. We thought they should be recognized in some special way for their loyalty and support of the cooperative. Future Internet applications will likely require higher speeds and this will set our customers up for broadband success for the foreseeable future.”

It’s What They Do

The upgrade to gigabit connectivity for existing subscribers with no increase in price follows the same pattern we’ve seen from other publicly owned networks. Recently, we presented detailed data from municipal networks in Tennessee that showed how rates have changed very little over decades[2], even though speeds have consistently increased.

Vermont’s ECFiber also recently announced a speed increase[3] at no extra charged for subscribers. They also plan another increase in 2018.

RS Fiber Cooperative has been connecting towns and rural areas in Sibley and Renville County. For more about the cooperative, check out our 2016 case study, RS Fiber: Fertile Fields for New Rural Internet Cooperative[4]. The last four communities to receive services[5] will be connected later in 2017.

This article was originally published on ILSR’s[6]. Read the original here[7].

  1. recently established the “Cornerstone Member” program:
  2. how rates have changed very little over decades:
  3. recently announced a speed increase:
  4. RS Fiber: Fertile Fields for New Rural Internet Cooperative:
  5. last four communities to receive services:
  7. here:

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Local Solar Power: Red Plus Blue Makes a Green Tea Party – Episode 24 of the Building Local Power Podcast

by Nick Stumo-Langer | July 13, 2017 12:00 pm

In this week’s episode of Building Local Power[1] we interview Debbie Dooley, President of Conservatives for Energy Freedom[2] and co-founder of the Green Tea Coalition[3] in the southern United States. Dooley’s organizations promote “consumer choice in the energy field” to “provide competition” and stop monopolies from limiting their customer’s options in renewable energy. The Green Tea Coalition[3] features a collaboration between members of the Tea Party Movement and progressives in the Green Party and the Democratic Party in Georgia and other southern states.

Full transcript is available here[4].

This conversation tracks closely with a previous Building Local Power episode where our experts discussed hyper-partisanship in our political system. That episode, Breaking Through Partisanship: Left-Right-Local[5], discussed how local issues and local politics cuts across partisan barriers and brings coalitions of concerned residents together.

“I live in Atlanta, there’s different roads that will take you to your final destination of Atlanta. The roads you take is dependent upon where you’re coming from,” says Debbie Dooley[6] of talking to people across the political spectrum in order to promote local renewable energy. “As long as we work together, someone’s willing to work together to advance clean energy and solar and other renewables, I don’t care why they’re advancing it, wanting to work to advance it. I just care in the end result.”


  1. Building Local Power:
  2. Conservatives for Energy Freedom:
  3. Green Tea Coalition:
  4. available here: #transcript
  5. Breaking Through Partisanship: Left-Right-Local:
  6. Debbie Dooley:
  7. [Image]:
  8. Play in new window:
  9. Download:
  10. Android:
  11. RSS:
  12. (more…):

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Slow-to-Accelerate EV Charging Program Provides Lessons for Improvement

by Karlee Weinmann | July 12, 2017 8:00 am

Minnesota’s largest investor-owned utility, Xcel Energy, last month reported sparse participation in a program designed to deliver value to customers who charge their electric vehicles when it’s most convenient for the grid. But despite its benefits for the grid and cost savings for customers, the initiative appears stuck in neutral.

By April 2017, a year and a half after its launch, just 95 Xcel customers had opted in to the state-mandated electric vehicle charging tariff. With nearly 1,000 plug-in vehicles registered to Minnesota drivers — a bulk of them likely in Xcel’s metro-area territory — participation numbers hover well below reasonable expectations. Why?

A review of Xcel’s most recent report on the program[1], filed with regulators on June 1, offers a few hints.

First, the utility’s outreach to date hasn’t followed a proven blueprint established by other utilities more proactive about electric vehicle ownership. Where Xcel has spent more than $100,000 to table at farmers markets and meet with local employers, it hasn’t built relationships with car dealers to educate electric vehicle buyers about charging options. Austin Energy, in Texas, has proven the potential of partnerships with dealerships, offering a month’s free charging[2] to new electric car owners as a tool to let them know about charging plans.

But even with bolder outreach, questions loom about the viability of Xcel’s charging program for customers unable or unwilling to shoulder high upfront costs. The utility requires separate metering and charging infrastructure that costs roughly $1,500 — a burden that likely deters participation when the average payback for participation is just $14 per month. (That means it would take more than nine years to recoup the initial investment, more than the six-year average duration of car ownership.) In contrast, the charging program at nearby Dakota Electric has a lower upfront cost that pays back in just 2-4 years of typical charging.

Disappointing participation numbers for Xcel’s program underscore the need for a more holistic approach to encouraging drivers to charge when electricity is least expensive. Without the right charging policies in place, Xcel misses an opportunity to strengthen demand response, improve grid performance, and get itself ready for an increasingly electrified transportation system.


[3] (more…)[4]

  1. recent report on the program:
  2. a month’s free charging:
  3. [Image]:
  4. (more…):

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“Muni Fiber Models” Community Internet Connectivity Fact Sheet

by Lisa Gonzalez | July 12, 2017 6:24 am

When local communities look for ways to improve connectivity, they may consider investing in a municipal fiber optic network. As they begin to review possible options, local officials, their staff, and community groups will realize that there are a number of potential models. We’ve put together the Muni Fiber Models fact sheet[1] that takes a brief look at those models and provides some examples.

From “Retail” to “Tubes In The Ground”

Chattanooga[2] is the most well known municipal Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) network and is offered by the community’s Electric Power Board (EPB). EPB’s service offers telephone, Internet access, and video service directly to subscribers. The fact sheet provides more examples of communities that have decided that full retail service[3] is right for them. On the other end of the spectrum, places like Lincoln, Nebraska[4], provide only the infrastructure and lease it to private sector providers who then offer retail services to businesses and residents. The other approaches we find most commonly used include open access[5], I-Nets[6], and Partnerships between local government and the private sector.

We’ve included short explanations for each model and provide some examples for a starting point. We encourage you to share the fact sheet with others who are interested in learning about different paths to better connectivity through publicly owned networks.

Download the Muni Fiber Models fact sheet here[7].

Review our other fact sheets[8] and check back periodically for new additions. Fact sheets are a great way to quickly and easily share information and cultivate interest in learning more.

PDF icon Muni Fiber Models Fact Sheet

This article was originally published on ILSR’s[9]. Read the original here[10].

  1. Muni Fiber Models fact sheet:
  2. Chattanooga:
  3. full retail service:
  4. Lincoln, Nebraska:
  5. open access:
  6. I-Nets:
  7. Muni Fiber Models fact sheet here:
  8. other fact sheets:
  10. here:

Source URL:

Day Of Action To Save Network Neutrality: Submit Your Comments To FCC

by Lisa Gonzalez | July 12, 2017 3:31 am

During the Obama administration, the FCC under Chairman Tom Wheeler made bold steps to protect innovation and competition on the Internet[1] by passing network neutrality rules. With new FCC Chairman Ajit Pai, network neutrality is in danger. In order to prevent the backward slide – or worse – we all need to comment to the FCC and tell them to preserve network neutrality protections.

Stepping Back In Time

Under Chairman Wheeler, regulations were put into place that prevented ISPs like Comcast, Verizon, and AT&T from slowing down specific websites or charging extra fees to certain sites, who then must pass along those fees to customers. Rather then turning the Internet into just another version of Cable TV, the FCC has preserved its neutrality – now those actions are at risk.

Chairman Pai announced soon after he was appointed that he wants to roll back the rules implemented during the Obama administration, which includes eliminating “Title II” of the Communications Act protections for broadband. Title II provides the legal basis that prevents blocking and throttling.

Let’s Act

On May 18th, the FCC released a Notice of Proposed Rule Making[2] (NPRM); comments are due July 17th. What does the mean? It means it’s time for you to contact the FCC here (Proceeding 17-108)[3] and let them know that you want in network neutrality and that you believe existing rules should stay in place.

If you’ve never commented on an FCC proceeding, here’s an article from Gigi Sohn[4], former Counselor to Tom Wheeler, who can offer some tips on an effective comment. You can also read some of the other comments[5] submitted by others.

This article was originally published on ILSR’s[6]. Read the original here[7].

  1. made bold steps to protect innovation and competition on the Internet:
  2. Notice of Proposed Rule Making:
  3. contact the FCC here (Proceeding 17-108):
  4. an article from Gigi Sohn:
  5. read some of the other comments:
  7. here:

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Frontier Is A No-Show: Rural Wisconsinites Looking For Promised Connectivity

by Lisa Gonzalez | July 10, 2017 5:17 am

It’s been about two years since the people of Lincoln County, Wisconsin, learned that Frontier Communications received federal funding to expand Internet access in their region. Now, they’re wondering why Frontier has still not started construction of promised infrastructure.

A Long Road To Nowhere

The community has been seeking ways to improve local connectivity for years. Back in 2013, they held a series of local listening sessions and workshops[1] with officials from the University of Wisconsin-Extension Center for Community Technology Solutions. The goals of the workshops were to educate community members about the importance of connectivity and to learn more about the availability of Internet access at the local level. The meetings addressed both residential and business needs[2].

In the summer of 2015, county officials announced that they had been working on an initiative to find a way to improve connectivity throughout Lincoln County. By engaging members of the public in town hall forums they had learned that the general consensus was[3]:

“For the most part, people are disappointed with their current service.”

“Generally speaking, their current Internet service is not fast enough and there just isn’t enough capacity to do what they want to do.”

Community leaders were also learning that a fair number of home-based businesses were popping up in the county.

As part of their initiative, the board had worked with the UW Extension Office, County Economic Development Corporation and County Information Technology Department. They also passed a resolution[4] stating that they would do everything they could to expand broadband to every resident in the county. County officials began having meetings to develop a plan to meet their goal. Shortly after, they learned that Frontier had accepted Connect America Funding Phase II (CAF II), federal funding designed specifically to expand connectivity in rural areas considered unserved and underserved.

Frontier would use part of the CAF II to expand its services in Lincoln County. Frontier assured the county that the build-out would likely begin in the spring of 2016 and be completed by late 2020. Did this mean they would finally get high-quality connectivity? (more…)[5]

  1. held a series of local listening sessions and workshops:
  2. both residential and business needs:
  3. that the general consensus was:
  4. They also passed a resolution:
  5. (more…):

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Two Maine Communities Joining Forces For Dark Fiber, Internet Access

by Lisa Gonzalez | July 8, 2017 6:27 am

The communities of Calais[1] and Baileyville[2] in Maine are joining forces and investing in fiber optic infrastructure. Recently, the city councils in both communities along with the local economic development corporation decided to construct a publicly owned dark fiber network[3]. They’ve also chosen a local firm to construct it.

Dark Fiber

The idea for the project started in 2015 when the Downeast Economic Development Corporation[4] (DEDC) contacted local Pioneer Broadband to discuss ways to improve connectivity. DEDC is a non-profit entity engaged in improving economic development in the region. Calais’s choices for Internet access were limited and some areas out of the city had no Internet access at all. DECD hired Pioneer to develop a feasibility study which would provide suggestions to improve access for both businesses and residents, with symmetrical connectivity a priority.

Pioneer’s study suggested a dark fiber municipal network with connectivity to all premises in Calais and adjoining Baileyville. ISPs will they have the opportunity to offer services to the community via the publicly owned infrastructure. Julie Jordan, director of Downeast Economic Development Corporation said:

“I’m pleased to say that the Baileyville Town Council, Calais City Council and Downeast Economic Development board of directors have all endorsed this exciting project. We look forward to working with Pioneer and developing results that can dramatically improve service in our towns. With the construction of the fiber optic infrastructure, Calais and Baileyville businesses and residents will have access to state of the art, high speed, reliable internet and these communities will be poised for the jobs of today and tomorrow. Telecommuting options, telemedicine, online education, and media streaming will all be greatly enhanced.”


Along The Border

Calais has three ports of entry into Canada and is located on its southeastern border in Washington County. There are approximately 3,100 people in Calais and another 1,500 in Baileyville, which is just north. Retail, construction, and service industries lead the economy in the area.

This article was originally published on ILSR’s[5]. Read the original here[6].

  1. Calais:
  2. Baileyville:
  3. decided to construct a publicly owned dark fiber network:
  4. Downeast Economic Development Corporation:
  6. here:

Source URL:

Video To Share: Rural America, Broadband Help is Not on the Way

by Lisa Gonzalez | July 6, 2017 5:16 am

If you live in rural America, chances are you know what it’s like to have inadequate Internet access. If you’ve heard about the Connect America Fund, however, you probably think help is on the way and your problems will soon be over; you’ll get the kind of speeds available in large cities, right? Wrong.

Our short video[1] on rural connectivity and CAF explains how big companies are taking federal subsidies to build networks that provide the same old slow DSL service to rural areas. So, what can people in rural communities do? The video describes how local communities are becoming more self-reliant through publicly owned infrastructure and offers some starting points if you’re interested in learning more.

More Of The Same? No Way!

The Connect America Fund (CAF) is offering billions of dollars to build out networks in rural areas, but the companies receiving the subsidies are the same ones that already offer terrible connectivity in most rural communities. Are they using those subsidies to invest in high-speed connectivity for rural areas? No. The DSL connections that those companies are deploying for your home or business with CAF funding is already considered obsolete.

Rather than accepting these substandard solutions, an increasing number of communities[2] have decided to act so they can have the same or better quality of connectivity as urban areas. Rural cooperatives and municipal networks are taking charge of their own telecommunications infrastructure needs. Unless you live in one of these communities, you may have never heard about the fast, affordable, reliable connectivity available from a community network or a cooperative. They’re just doing it and not bragging about it.

YOU Make It Happen

How does a community or a cooperative start offering better connectivity? We’ve created this short video that explains the basics and we invite you to share it with others. It all starts with YOU.

Be sure to check out our other videos[3], too!

This article was originally published on ILSR’s[4]. Read the original here[5].

  1. Our short video:
  2. an increasing number of communities:
  3. our other videos:
  5. here:

Source URL:

Access Appalachia: Internet Access for Rural America

by Christopher | July 5, 2017 5:20 am

Check back on’s Resource Page[1] frequently for updates to Internet access in the Appalachian region.

This is the central hub for ILSR’s research on Internet access around the Appalachian United States. We have compiled federal statistics on broadband availability and federal subsidies for large Internet Service Providers. We’ve created detailed maps of 150 counties in Kentucky, Southeast Ohio, and northern West Virginia.

We’ve also created Rural Toolkits for Kentucky, Southeast Ohio, and northern West Virginia. These toolkits offer a big picture look at connectivity on a regional and statewide level.  They also provide action steps for folks to learn more and get involved.

Remember these three key details when reading through this information:

Internet access: if you can get online, check email, and browse the web.

Broadband: the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) currently defines this as speed of 25 Mbps download and 3 Mbps upload.

Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH): a high-speed fiber-optic connection directly to the home. This type of technology can support speeds of more than 1,000 Megabit-per-second (Mbps).

Appalachia can get better Internet service, but the big companies aren’t going to do it. Cooperatives and small towns are stepping up and delivering world-class Internet service.


kentucky toolkit imageThis information covers the entirety of the state – all 120 counties.

Rural Toolkit: This toolkit provides the basics of how to get started. From what is broadband to the details of federal funding, this toolkit has got you covered. At the back, it includes a statewide fact sheet, which is also available separately.

Statewide Fact Sheet: Did you know that three Internet Service Providers get more than $327 million to spend on rural Kentucky? Did you know that they aren’t required to build high-speed networks offering broadband?

Information for each county in the state can be found in this Dropbox folder. Each county map outlines where there is any form of Internet access. Then it specifies the technology: DSL, Fixed Wireless, Cable, or Fiber-to-the-Home.

Keep up to date with information about Kentucky here.

Southeast Ohio

small image of ohio connectivity pageThis information covers the counties of Athens, Belmont, Coshocton, Gallia, Guernsey, Harrison, Hocking, Jackson, Meigs, Monroe, Morgan, Muskingum, Noble, Perry, Tuscarawas, Vinton, and Washington.

Rural Toolkit: Want better Internet access? Check out this toolkit and then share it with leaders in your community. You don’t have to be an expert on networking to get started on improving Internet access. At the back, it includes a fact sheet for the region — also available separately.

Fact sheet for Southeast Ohio: Learn about what other communities in Ohio have done to improve Internet access. Consider how big companies receive subsidies to built obsolete networks that only need to provide speeds of 10 Mbps download and 1 Mbps upload.

Information on every one of these counties is available in this Dropbox folder. Each county map outlines where there is any form of Internet access. Then it specifies the technology: DSL, Fixed Wireless, Cable, or Fiber-to-the-Home. Fiber-to-the-Home can provide speeds that are much faster than “broadband.”

Read more about what communities are doing to improve Internet access in Ohio. (more…)[2]

  1.’s Resource Page:
  2. (more…):

Source URL:

Tennessee’s Tri-County Electric Cooperative To Build High-Speed Internet Network

by Hannah Trostle | July 4, 2017 4:10 am

On the border of Tennessee and Kentucky, an electric cooperative looks to a more connected future. The Tri-County Electric Cooperative that operates across state lines is preparing to build a state-of-the-art network for high-speed Internet service throughout Trousdale County, Tennessee. This will be the first year of construction for the cooperative after several years of planning.

Tri-County Electric plans to soon begin services to Trousdale County, the smallest county in Tennessee. Many of the county’s 8,000 residents’ choice is limited to Comcast and AT&T, and Tri-County Electric’s Vice-President and General Manager Paul Thompson noted that people in the county often only subscribe to about 6 Mbps download and 1 Mbps upload. With a steady membership base of 50,000 spread across two states and a close relationship with the county, the electric co-op is in a good position to move forward with the Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) project. The cooperative intends to offer an affordable base package that provides faster, more reliable connectivity than what the incumbents are willing to offer the rural communities.

Funding From The Feds

Since 2014, Tri-County Electric Cooperative has actively pursued financing for a FTTH network in the county. The co-op applied for a grant through the Rural Broadband Experiments program managed by the Federal Communications Commission. They did not receive any funding, but the process resulted in a tangible plan.

The process of applying for the grant built up community support for the project and enabled the co-op to identify key assets. As part of the grant application, they noted which census blocks they expected to connect and what community anchor institutions, such as schools, libraries, and government buildings, could be included. The Trousdale County government even passed a resolution giving explicit permission for Tri-County Electric to build and operate a FTTH network.

Although Tri-County Electric Cooperative did not receive that grant, the co-op continued to pursue different avenues for funding. This year, the co-op received a $20 million loan from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Rural Utilities Service to install the fiber network. The county also attempted to give the co-op some funding, but state government policies blocked that effort. (more…)[1]

  1. (more…):

Source URL:

ILSR Raises Up Urban Farms with Community Compost in Baltimore and DC

by Linda Bilsens | June 30, 2017 5:27 pm

In 2014, ILSR’s Composting for Community Initiative[1] launched the Neighborhood Soil Rebuilders[2] (NSR) composter training program to teach community leaders how to compost on a small-scale for local food production and to adapt the rigor of commercial composting industry practices to the small scale. In addition to teaching how to avoid nuisance odors, pathogen problems, and unwanted critters; the NSR program demonstrates how to produce high-quality compost and enriching the community. Our goal is to increase the pool of community leaders who know how to manage well-operated community compost systems such as those at schools, community gardens, and urban farms.


Because urban agriculture largely takes place on vacant lots, sometimes on sites previously used for commercial or industrial uses, soil contamination is a potential concern. In addition, previously developed urban sites generally have compacted soils that have been depleted of nutrients and can no longer store water or sustain life. Fortunately, adding organic matter helps restore proper structure and function to soil, and compost is among the best ways to accomplish this. Compost has the added benefits of binding contaminants, making them less available to plants and people, as well as restoring biological activity that is essential to plant health. As a result, urban growers are increasingly requesting ILSR’s technical assistance on best practices for adding composting to their operations. The NSR program has been replicated in DC, Atlanta, and Baltimore, resulting in composting projects at dozens of gardens and farms.


Putting the concepts of the NSR program into action, ILSR is directly establishing a number of model community scale composting sites and operations in DC and Baltimore.


Real Food Farm, northeast Baltimore

In partnership with Civic Works’ Real Food Farm[3] in Baltimore, we have established a model small-scale community-centered compost site. Real Food Farm grows fresh produce on 8 acres in and around the Clifton Park neighborhood in northeast Baltimore and serves two nearby food deserts. In 2016, we partnered with them to bring the NSR Master Composter program to Baltimore[4]. ILSR built Real Food Farm a 5-bin rat-resistant composting system, which was central to the hands-on instruction during the six-week NSR course.  The system now provides the backbone for the composting cooperative, which is processing hundreds of pounds of food scraps from the farm and the cooperative’s members.

Members of Real Food Farm’s Compost Co-op remix an active compost pile during a recent workday.

Two participants of the course, also FoodCorps service members at Real Food Farm, completed their capstone project requirement by adopting NSR best management practices and the principles of a cooperative model to create the Real Food Farm Compost Co-op. The Compost Co-op provides the farm a tangible way to engage its customers and supporters, by training them to become members of the farm’s new food scrap drop-off system, while creating a valuable product. The project embodies best practices, with a rodent-resistant composting system, secure material storage, active monitoring and data recording, and thorough and regular mixing of materials. The Co-op, with close to 50 members, is also composting food scraps from local food scrap collection service, Compost Cab[5]. The management of the system, though still driven by farm staff, is increasingly being distributed to all of its members through the formation of committees and adoption of bylaws.

Sophia Hosain of Real Food Farm trains new Compost Co-op members on the protocol for dropping off their food scraps.

Filbert Street Community Garden: Curtis Bay, Baltimore

The Curtis Bay neighborhood of Baltimore is Maryland’s most polluted zip code and the manufacturing industry has vanished, leaving in its wake high unemployment, crumbling infrastructure, and lack of opportunity. In this historically disenfranchised community, workforce skill training and employment opportunities are sorely needed, as is ready access to healthy food assistance programming.

A recent graduate of Benjamin Franklin High School builds the inaugural compost pile in Filbert Street Community Garden’s composting system.

Under a grant from the Abell Foundation, ILSR has partnered with the Chesapeake Center for Youth Development (CCYD) to launch a youth-led bike-powered food scrap collection and community composting initiative at the Filbert Street Garden in Curtis Bay. Together, we are creating a youth entrepreneurship program to train participants in workforce skills, food access programming and community-scale composting. CCYD has hired two local youth from the nearby high school to launch a bike-powered food scrap collection and composting enterprise, which will eventually serve an estimated 50 households and businesses in the Federal Hill and Curtis Bay neighborhoods. These youth will gain guided, hands-on experience supporting CCYD programs that improve access to fresh produce for as many as 250 local community members, and will manage a small-scale composting operation and its expansion. The project also aims to provide year-round employment with workforce skill training in billing, route development, customer outreach and marketing. ILSR has built the 3-bin composting system at Filbert Street Garden and trained the youth on how to compost. The compost produced will be used to grow more food.

The youth hired to run the bike-powered food scrap collection service receive their first hands-on composting training with ILSR staff.

Another key collaborator, and the inspiration for the youth-led bike-powered composting project, is BK ROT[6] in the Bushwick neighborhood of Brooklyn, NY. BK ROT was started by Sandy Nurse and Renee Pepperone in 2013 and is a community-supported operation employing four local youth year-round to collect food scraps from the surrounding community[7] by bike.


Our article in BioCycle’s January 2017[8] provides a deep dive into bike-powered food scrap collection businesses.


DC’s Ward 7

The University of the District of Columbia’s East Capitol Urban Farm[9] (ECUF) in DC’s Ward 7 has transformed a vacant parcel of land to a community resource that promotes urban agriculture, and aims to improve food access and nutrition through a community-oriented farmers’ market, nutrition education, and community gardening plots. Creating opportunities for entrepreneurship for one of DC’s most economically disenfranchised corners is another goal. The Farm includes more than 80 gardening beds for Ward 7 residents, a community plaza, a play space for children, an education and engagement zone, and a site for a farmers’ market. The University of the District of Columbia (UDC) – through its College of Agriculture, Urban Sustainability and Environmental Sciences (CAUSES) – manages ECUF and led the effort to establish it in 2015.

Gardeners at UDC’s East Capitol Urban Farm don’t let the hot DC summer dampen their spirits!

ILSR is collaborating with CAUSES to establish a composting project, a key missing component of ECUF’s goal toward zero waste. On June 17th, ILSR staff coordinated a compost bin-building workshop, lead by local system designers Urban Farm Plans[10], for ECUF staff. The site is now being prepared for its next major milestone – its first composting workshop and the unveiling of its community drop-off program on Saturday, July 22nd.

Staff from ECUF, ILSR and Urban Farm Plans strike a pose after a successful bin-building workshop at ECUF.

ILSR is also collaborating with Soilful City[11] to establish a community composting project at the Clay Terrace Community Garden. Xavier Brown runs Soilful City and is one of our NSR graduates. He currently is the compost manager at Project EDEN[12] (Everyone Deserves to Eat Naturally), part of a church community in Ward 8. Project EDEN is an innovative youth-focused urban garden initiative that brings fresh fruits and vegetables, workforce development, and transitional employment opportunities to underserved youth and adults. It offers social and entrepreneurial opportunities in a community blighted by poverty and violence. In the past 3 years, EDEN has hired 36 youth and young adults ages 14-22 and has provided fresh produce to more than 350 families.

Xavier Brown of Soilful City has been working with Clay Terrace Community Garden (aka Dix Garden) to get the garden established.

With Xavier’s help, the community garden in Clay Terrace, which is part of the Richardson Dwellings DC Public Housing project, is now seeking similar opportunities. Together, we are planning the compost system, securing composting tools, and adapting the NSR program to the local community. We have fundraised to pay small stipends to two local garden founders to help establish and manage the composting system. We are exploring ways to use the composting project to expand membership in the garden, incorporate life and jobs skills training, as well as spur micro-enterprise development.

Xavier, also an NSR program graduate, has been hosting Soilful Thursday workdays around SE DC to help spread the gardening and composting love.

Follow the Institute for Local Self-Reliance on Twitter[13] and Facebook[14] and, for monthly updates on our work, sign-up[15] for our ILSR general newsletter.

  1. Composting for Community Initiative:
  2. Neighborhood Soil Rebuilders:
  3. Civic Works’ Real Food Farm:
  4. NSR Master Composter program to Baltimore:
  5. Compost Cab:
  6. BK ROT:
  7. collect food scraps from the surrounding community:
  8. Our article in BioCycle’s January 2017:
  9. East Capitol Urban Farm:
  10. Urban Farm Plans:
  11. Soilful City:
  12. Project EDEN:
  13. Twitter:
  14. Facebook:
  15. sign-up:

Source URL:

Independence & Local Self-Reliance

by Nick Stumo-Langer | June 30, 2017 2:00 pm

Here at the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, we advocate for independence in a variety of forms. From strengthening the status of independent businesses in the economy to encouraging local governments to break free from monopoly Internet Service Providers and invest in their communities’ connectivity, independence is vital for small-scale, local economies. That’s why, in honor of Independence Day 2017, we’ve gathered resources from across our work that you can delve into during this long weekend.

We have a number of podcasts, articles, and infographics from all of our initiatives that discuss the vital role independence plays in the local economy. We know that you need some fodder for conversations during BBQs, travel to be with loved ones, and fireworks shows.

Let’s get started:

Building Local Power Podcast

A number of our Building Local Power[1] podcasts directly discuss independence in its various forms.

In Mayors Take on Preemption to Defend Local Solutions[2], Tallahassee, Florida Mayor Andrew Gillum argues that the state level preemption policies of states like Florida, Pennsylvania, and Minnesota are harming city governments’ independence. These policies impact a number of issues, including:

Mayor Gillum spoke intensely against this level of control by the state government: “There’s a nimbleness to local governments that I think people have an appreciation for. …The legislatures are trying to] exclude us from being able to make any investments in that space for the greater good.”

Another great episode discussed how curbing partisanship in our politics by focusing on local issues: Breaking Through Partisanship: Left-Right-Local[3]. The group discusses the nature of local policies and politics versus the national-level fights and hyper-partisanship. (more…)[4]

  1. Building Local Power:
  2. Mayors Take on Preemption to Defend Local Solutions:
  3. Breaking Through Partisanship: Left-Right-Local:
  4. (more…):

Source URL:

Pinetops Will Stay Connected to Broadband In North Carolina, For Now

by Lisa Gonzalez | June 30, 2017 5:39 am

It’s been a long road for Pinetops, North Carolina, as they’ve sought better connectivity in their rural community. After dramatic ups and downs, the community seems to have finally found a tepid resolution. Greenlight can, for now, continue to serve Pinetops[1].

With Conditions

On June 28th, the General Assembly passed HB 396[2], which allows Wilson’s municipal network, Greenlight, to continue to provide gigabit connectivity to the town and to Vick Family Farms but establishes conditions. If or when another provider brings Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) service to Pinetops, Wilson has 30 days to end service as customers transition to the new provider. Until a different provider comes to Pinetops, Greenlight will continue to offer its gigabit connectivity to the approximately 600 households and premises in the community of about 1,300 people.

In addition to premises in the town of Pinetops, Greenlight is serving Vick Family Farm, a local potato manufacturer. When the business obtained access to high-quality Internet access, they were able to expand their business internationally; they invested in a high tech distribution facility[3]. The facility requires the kind of capacity they can only get from Greenlight.

Community leaders in Pinetops are relieved they don’t have to give up fiber connectivity, but they’re happy with the service they get with Greenlight and would rather stick with the muni.

“Although not the solution we expected, we are pleased this bill allows us to continue to leverage Greenlight’s next generation infrastructure as we focus on growing our community,” said [Town Commissioner Suzanne] Coker-Craig. “Hopefully, no other provider will exercise the option to build redundant infrastructure that our community neither wants nor needs. Pinetops has made it clear that we want the quality and speed of service that only Greenlight can provide.”

Read the text of the bill here[4]. (more…)[5]

  1. continue to serve Pinetops:
  2. passed HB 396:
  3. invested in a high tech distribution facility:
  4. Read the text of the bill here:
  5. (more…):

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One Touch Make Ready: Model Language In Three Cities And Counting…

by Lisa Gonzalez | June 28, 2017 5:09 am

One Touch Make Ready (OTMR) policies are recognized as a way to cut down on the expense and the time it takes to deploy fiber optic networks. At least three sizable urban communities have adopted OTMR practices to streamline fiber optic construction and ensure consistent standards. For other communities looking at ways to encourage brisk fiber optic investment, it pays to study the language of OTMR resolutions and policies.

OTMR allows a pre-approved contractor to move cables belonging to more than one entity on one visit to the pole to make room for the new fiber optic cable. This is a departure from the old method, in which each entity takes turns visiting the pole in question to move only their wires. The old approach is time consuming because each entity must take turns in the order in which their wires are installed on the poles. If one entity causes a delay, every other entity that needs to work after them must also wait. What follows is a snowball effect and an entire project can fall far behind schedule.

San Antonio, Texas

San Antonio’s municipal utility, CPS Energy, adopted a broad set of pole attachment standards[1] that include specific requirements for OTMR, including what needs to happen before, during, and after the process.

The standards lay out administrative procedures, technical provisions, and specific provisions for both wired and wireless attachments. It incorporates recommendations from the FCC on how best to expand broadband while also weaving in safety standards from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). In the introduction, CPS Energy writes:

From a holistic perspective, the Standards seek to balance the competing needs and interests of multiple communications providers to access and utilize CPS Energy Poles, while at the same time recognizing that the core purpose and function of these Poles is for CPS Energy’s safe and reliable distribution and delivery of electric services to CPS Energy customers. Hence, any use of CPS Energy’s Poles must at all times ensure the continued operational integrity, safety and reliability of CPS Energy’s Facilities, electric services, personnel and the general public.

You can view the entire 128-page document, which includes appendices, here[2]. (more…)[3]

  1. broad set of pole attachment standards:
  2. entire 128-page document, which includes appendices, here:
  3. (more…):

Source URL:

Amid EV Surge, Austin Eyes a New Way of Doing Business — Episode 48 of Local Energy Rules Podcast

by Karlee Weinmann | June 26, 2017 12:00 pm

Improving battery life and safety standards place electric vehicles and self-driving cars closer than ever to the mainstream, and the City of Austin is laying plans to capitalize on the transition.

Experts predict a dramatic transformation[1] of the U.S. transportation system will take hold in the coming decade. Karl Popham, who manages emerging technologies and electric vehicles at Austin Energy, expects major disruption too, fueled mainly by a distinct shift in how drivers view auto ownership.

For decades, the marketplace has nurtured a “single-car ownership” model, built around the idea that every adult driver wants to own a vehicle. But the popularity of carshare services like Zipcar and Car2Go, as well as ride-hailing services like Uber and Lyft, suggest a fundamental fracture in that longstanding framework.

“The American dream of having that house and the cars and the 2.1 kids and all those kind of things maybe doesn’t necessarily apply as a universal truth to younger generations,” said Popham, who works for the eighth-largest municipal utility in the nation. “We need to think more in terms of convenience and mobility, and less about owning something that is ultimately parked over 90% of the time.”

Electric and autonomous vehicle technology supports the change, said Popham, whose city-owned utility is a leader in conservation and renewable energy[2]. He recently spoke with John Farrell, head of the Energy Democracy Initiative at the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, about changes already in motion and what’s yet to come.

Note: We published this podcast and post alongside a new, comprehensive report — Choosing the Electric Avenue — Unlocking Savings, Emissions Reductions, and Community Benefits of Electric Vehicles[3] — that explores in-depth the influence electric vehicles can have in building clean energy economies at the community scale.


A ‘Next-Wave Mobility Plan’

Popham’s vision lines up with an innovative, wholesale push for electrification approved by the Austin City Council last year. The “next-wave mobility plan[9]” prioritizes electric, shared, and autonomous vehicles in the city’s transportation plans. City leaders and staff, including Popham, are working together now to map out specific solutions that further the three-pronged approach.

“We want to be a proactive partner and leader with new and established companies to bring these revolutions sooner rather than later to the City of Austin, so it can be the new normal — and a roadmap and benchmark, quite frankly, for other cities,” Popham said.

Austin already supports a shared vehicle economy, including through ride-hailing services like Uber and Lyft. It’s also home to an autonomous vehicle program run by Google, currently in its pilot phase. But it’s farthest along in its strategy when it comes to electric vehicles, with a network of 550 public charging stations[10] that drivers can access — as much as they want — for $4.17 per month.

More than 1,000 drivers have opted in to Austin’s public charging program, modeled after a gym membership. Electric vehicle owners can sign up for a six-month “membership” for $25 (which shakes out to $4.17 monthly) and enjoy unlimited access to the public charging stations. For some, especially those who also have workplace charging infrastructure, it’s all they need to keep their cars powered up. Others pair the public network with at-home chargers.

The Business of EV Charging

Austin Energy estimates the city’s drivers do 85% of their car-charging in personal garages and carports, behind the meter. The public network, however, provides another option. And the opt-in “membership” program encourages drivers to use it. Some auto dealers hand out a prepaid membership when they sell electric vehicles off the lot. But even drivers who don’t the six-month buy-in can use the public chargers anytime, for $2 per hour.

“We did it to encourage overall [electric vehicle] adoption,” Popham said. “We know the majority of charging happens at home. … But what the $4.17 does, it gets them to rethink the paradigm.”

The program bucks the typical utility model of hinging bottom-line performance on greater electricity sales, an increasingly outdated strategy as new technology — from energy efficiency to demand response — pushes it out of step with current market conditions. But creative sales models like this can be a smart move for utilities; these vehicles inherently boost demand for electricity.

Each electric vehicle currently represents an additional $400 in annual revenue for Austin Energy, Popham said.

Encouraging charging during off-peak times, when electricity demand is lower, enables electric vehicles to play an important role in managing the overall grid. Austin Energy doesn’t offer a full suite of incentives, like some utilities do, for drivers to charge at these times (such as overnight, when there is excess wind generation). But it has launched a pilot program that provides lower rates outside the peak-demand window.

The Austin program[11] offers drivers unlimited charging at public stations for a $30 monthly rate. That covers at-home charging as well, as long as drivers plug in outside the peak demand period, which stretches from late afternoon to early evening. If a driver charges during that window, the cost ticks up.

A $30 flat fee shakes out to about $0.09 per kilowatt-hour, assuming the average electric vehicle uses 4,000 kilowatt-hours per year. That rate is higher than similar programs offered by other utilities that feature off-peak rates as low as $0.03 per kilowatt-hour[12]. But for Popham, the cost differential between his utility’s program and others isn’t too concerning.

Austin Energy’s program is in its early stages, meant to generate data and driver feedback to inform more permanent solutions, he said. In addition, Popham noted grid benefits even when drivers charge electric vehicles at peak times — they help offset the afternoon influx of solar generation as more arrays come online.

Promising Demand Response

As part of its push to maximize the benefits of electric vehicles, Austin Energy has also tested demand response technology[13], methods that allow the utility to encourage or require drivers to charge during times when it’s best for the grid. The utility runs a similar program using smart thermostats, to regulate air conditioners when electricity demand ticks toward its peak.

While it harnessed similar technology, the electric vehicle experiment yielded even better results than the thermostat initiative, Popham said. No one opted out of the vehicle-charging pilot and drivers seemed willing to tweak their at-home charging habits to align with utility needs, where ceding control of their home-cooling systems was a tougher sell.

“What our study shows is people are much more comfortable with stopping their charging for a few hours on your EV,” Popham said. “We considered it a fairly good success and definitely could be part of our roadmap moving forward.”

Fleet Electrification

Austin’s transition to a more electrified transportation future doesn’t stop with its private customers. In fact, the city itself is at the center of the plan. Austin plans to integrate 330 electric vehicles into its municipal fleet between now and 2020, a move expected to generate $3.5 million in savings — including fuel and maintenance costs — over 10 years.

The transition places Austin alongside a slew of other cities turning to electricity to power their vehicles. Nearby Houston reported savings of $110,000 per year[14] by replacing just 27 of its light-duty cars with electric models. In many of those cities, as in Austin, the change is as much about saving money as it is modeling the possibilities of electrification.

“It’s also important for us as a city to eat our own dog food,” Popham said. “We want people to see in the community city vehicles driving on electric just to demonstrate the technology and that they work, and get more people exposed to them.”

In addition, Austin’s transit authority is planning to bring between 10 and 20 electric buses into its fleet. Officials are working now to cobble together the funding they need to purchase the buses and build out required charging infrastructure. Though electric buses cost more upfront, Austin authorities say the cost of bus ownership over 10 years is less than that for gas-powered models.

Austin Energy has also helped airlines save money by transitioning their heavy-duty equipment, used to load and transport baggage, to electric models.

Down the line, Popham said, the city’s transit options could include a shared electric, autonomous shuttle, or food-delivery vehicle to run groceries from the store to people’s homes. Along with buses, those potential innovations will drive up electricity sales for Austin Energy.

“There’s a lot of different kinds of business cases and applications that we’re pretty excited about,” he said.

What’s Next?

The economics of vehicle electrification are increasingly compelling, especially as battery costs plummet (indeed, battery packs are expected to clock in at just one-quarter of their 2010 price[15] by 2022, a reduction that on its own could cut the price of electric vehicles by 25%).

But in order to fully realize a modernized transportation sector, with widespread use of electric and autonomous vehicles, Popham said automakers need to help plug significant gaps in today’s marketplace — especially in Texas, where larger vehicles dominate the roadways.

For starters, he said, manufacturers need to boost production of electric trucks and SUVs — a high-demand segment nationwide. The Ford F-150 pickup has been the top-selling vehicle[16] in the U.S. for more than three decades, and last year the Chevrolet Silverado and Dodge Ram ranked second and third.

A number of hybrid and electric SUVs have come online so far[17] and achieved high satisfaction ratings, with more models expected to hit sales floors in the future. Electrifying the pickup truck has been a slower process, but not a stagnant one — electric vehicle mainstay Tesla is planning to manufacture one, while Workhorse Group (which built a hybrid delivery van[18]) has already tackled it[19].

As consumers, municipalities, and companies alike tiptoe into the electric vehicle marketplace, auto manufacturers will face rising demand across vehicle segments. And with its new plans in place, Austin officials say the are confident they’ll be ready to adapt to near-inevitable changes in market dynamics.

“There’s a very good chance it won’t be the single-occupancy vehicle, single-car ownership model, which is the very inefficient model we see today,” Popham said. “It could be all electric and automated vehicles.”

Photo Credit: Karlis Dambrans via Flickr (CC BY 2.0)[20].

This article originally posted at[21]. For timely updates, follow John Farrell[22] or Karlee Weinmann[23] on Twitter or get the Energy Democracy weekly[24] update.

  1. predict a dramatic transformation:
  2. leader in conservation and renewable energy:!ut/p/a1/jZDBTsMwDIafZYce1zgpGy23JExZN9ae6EouKENZWqlrqixQwdOTgYQE2sR8sqXvl-0PSVQj2au31ijf2l51p1nOn_FydoMZ4JUoigwomzORZIwQnATgKQBAUrLkQPJyUd5DXpUVLdccBE-uzF8oCv_lV1csIG7DNwbJQflm2vZ7i2qnez2qXaenoXHm_YTRfpekAXN6r5128asL_zfeD8e7CCIYxzE21ppOxy_2EMG5SGOPHtW_SbRF8uvIH0nilqRABWfrWVVguiB_gTMWv4HLmobDY_3xoLepz_KWTiafovrm6w!!/dl5/d5/L2dBISEvZ0FBIS9nQSEh/
  3. Choosing the Electric Avenue — Unlocking Savings, Emissions Reductions, and Community Benefits of Electric Vehicles:
  4. [Image]:
  5. Play in new window:
  6. Download:
  7. Android:
  8. RSS:
  9. next-wave mobility plan:
  10. network of 550 public charging stations:!ut/p/a1/jdCxboMwEAbgZ8nACL4YNSHdXBcRQhOmEuKlovQAS4CRcUHK05eoS1uRJred9P26008ESYlos0GWmZGqzerLLlZvQD265UDDYE09YAF_ih6Sw3ITLidw-gliP36GMIkTFkccAu7emb8yDG7ld3ccoHrP9yURXWYqW7aFIinWmBstc3vASuY12h9aDqj7C2ftu-tNXGOBGrXzqaceKmO6_tECC8ZxdEqlyhqdXDUWzEUq1RuS_pbkSMR_zzKf_gUzbX6D63V1zWt6fsGjZzahZIvFFyxaRUk!/dl5/d5/L2dBISEvZ0FBIS9nQSEh/
  11. The Austin program:!ut/p/a1/jZCxTsMwEIafpUNGx64rILCZUKWhLRkQwWRBJr0klhw7uriJxNOTigWqFnrbSd_3n-6nBZW0sGrQtfLaWWUOe3H9znjEVzHjaXLDIyaS-H59lT_Nb9P5BLz9BLJl9sDSPMtFto5ZEi8u9M-MYP_5jxcc4LiNtzUtOuUbom3lqAQDpUddkgEaXRogO9QDYE8lQq93YL1WhnjdAnEV2fdAUHk4hAn7sYimMIQKEDDc49RS433X3wUsYOM4hrVztYGwdG3ATimN6z2Vv0n6Sou_XhFLfgyc6PobOF9m177Iz83KDJvqOa1nsy8l5VTc/dl5/d5/L2dBISEvZ0FBIS9nQSEh/
  12. off-peak rates as low as $0.03 per kilowatt-hour:
  13. demand response technology:
  14. reported savings of $110,000 per year:
  15. just one-quarter of their 2010 price:
  16. the top-selling vehicle:
  17. come online so far:
  18. hybrid delivery van:
  19. has already tackled it:
  20. Karlis Dambrans via Flickr (CC BY 2.0):
  22. John Farrell:
  23. Karlee Weinmann:
  24. Energy Democracy weekly:

Source URL:

Fiber-to-the-Home Funding On Summer Ballot In Lyndon Township, Michigan

by Lisa Gonzalez | June 26, 2017 9:13 am

In August, voters in Lyndon Township, Michigan, will decide whether or not they want to approve a plan to invest in publicly owned fiber optic Internet infrastructure.

It’s All In The Mills

Voters are being asked to approve a millage increase of 2.9 over a 20-year period. In other words, property taxes will increase approximately $2.91 per $1,000 of taxable value of a property. Those funds will be used to fund a bond to finance the project; city leaders have already determined that the principal amount of the project will not exceed $7 million.

Once the infrastructure has been completed, the community plans to partner with one or more Internet Service Provider (ISP). Estimates for monthly millage bond costs and monthly cost for Internet access at 100 Megabits per second (Mbps) are approximately $57 for Lyndon Township’s average homeowner. Gigabit access will be available and will cost about $25 more each month.

If funding is approved, the community expects to finish the project and be using their new Internet infrastructure by the end of 2018.

Supported By Citizens

The issue of better connectivity in Lyndon Township isn’t a new one. At a meeting in March 2016, Township Board members voted 5-0 to fund a feasibility study. The Board had approached providers about improving connectivity in the area, but none considered an investment in Lyndon Township a good investment.

At the meeting, members of a broadband initiative started by local residents shared their stories. As is often the case, local residents described driving to the library or Township Hall to access the Internet because their own homes were unserved or connectivity is so poor. According to a Chelsea Update article[1], when the Board approved the feasibility funding, “[t]here was a vigorous round of applause from the crowd.”

seal-michigan.pngAbout 80 percent of the community does not have access to FCC defined broadband at 25 Mbps download and 3 Mbps upload. In the summer of 2016 when property owners received a survey about Internet access with their property tax bills, 83 percent of those who replied[2] and were registered voters described high-quality Internet access as “important” or “very important.” It was listed as second in a ranked list of priorities; water quality was number one.

Lyndon Township[3] is 36 square miles and home to about 2,800 people. It’s mostly rural and while it’s lack of population density makes for clean air, quiet nights, and enjoyable wildlife viewing, national ISPs can’t see the reason for expanding there. It’s a bad situation for homeowners and their kids:

“We live in Washtenaw County, within twenty miles of the University of Michigan, seven miles from downtown Chelsea and cannot get a high-speed internet connection. My husband has to drive to the Chelsea District Library to complete many of his work requirements, as well as my children with their college and job-hunting connection needs.”

The Ballot Initiative

People in Lyndon Township know that the only way to fix the problem is to handle it themselves[4]:

“We came to the mutual conclusion that nobody else is going to fix this broadband problem for us…if we, as Lyndon Township residents and surrounding townships, want it fixed we need to do something about it ourselves,” said Ben Fineman of Michigan Broadband Cooperative (MBCOOP).

MBCOOP is a group of volunteers in Washtenaw County that have banded together to seek out ways to improve connectivity in the communities of the county. They’ve developed a website with information on each of the communities in the county where efforts are underway. Check out their FAQs[5] on Lyndon’s project. They have also prepared a handout about the bond and funding for the project[6].

On August 8th, voters in the township will be asked:

Shall the Township of Lyndon, County of Washtenaw, Michigan, borrow the principal sum of not to exceed Seven Million Dollars ($7,000,000) and issue its general obligation unlimited tax bonds, in one or more series, payable in not to exceed twenty (20) years from the date of issue of each series, for the purpose of paying the cost to acquire, construct, furnish, and equip capital improvements consisting generally of a fiber optic infrastructure to provide broadband internet service in the Township including, but not limited to, fiber optic backbone, service lines, necessary electronics, rights-of-way, accessories and attachments thereto and any other related component, equipment or cost necessary to place the improvements into service?

The community of Leverett, Massachusetts, was faced with a similar situation. Many of the people in their community were using expensive satellite, dial-up, and some DSL connections. They also had difficulty obtaining reliable telephone service and big incumbent providers with a presence in the Leverett had no intention of upgrading the infrastructure. When they did the math, it was cost effective to invest in publicly owned FTTH infrastructure for Internet access and phone service. Leverett’s network[7] is faster, more reliable, and more affordable.

Educating Lyndon Township Folks

In order to share information about the plan before the vote, the community held a townhall meeting on June 21st and will hold another meeting on July 20th at the Township Hall at 7 p.m.

PDF icon Lyndon Township, Michigan, Bond Informational Handout

This article was originally published on ILSR’s[8]. Read the original here.[9]

  1. According to a Chelsea Update article:
  2. 83 percent of those who replied:
  3. Lyndon Township:
  4. is to handle it themselves:
  5. Check out their FAQs:
  6. handout about the bond and funding for the project:
  7. Leverett’s network:
  9. here.:

Source URL:

Amazon Is Trying to Control the Underlying Infrastructure of Our Economy

by Stacy Mitchell | June 25, 2017 6:00 pm

Companies that want to reach the market increasingly have no choice but to ride Amazon’s rails.

This article was first published in VICE’s Motherboard[1].

We often talk about Amazon as though it were a retailer. It’s an understandable mistake. After all, Amazon sells more clothing, electronics, toys, and books than any other company. Last year, Amazon captured nearly $1 of every $2[2] Americans spent online. As recently as 2015, most people looking to buy something online started at a search engine. Today, a majority[3] go straight to Amazon.

But to describe Amazon as a retailer is to misunderstand what the company actually is, and to miss the depth of the threat that it poses to our liberty and the very idea of an open, competitive market.

It’s not just that Amazon does many things besides sell stuff—that it manufactures thousands of products, from dress shirts to baby wipes, produces hit movies and television shows, delivers restaurant orders, offers loans, and may soon dispense prescription drugs[4]. Jeff Bezos is after something so much bigger than any of this. His vision is for Amazon to control the underlying infrastructure of the economy. Amazon’s website is already the dominant platform for digital commerce. Its Web Services division controls 44 percent[5] of the world’s cloud computing capacity and is relied on by everyone from Netflix to the Central Intelligence Agency. And the company has recently built out a vast network of distribution infrastructure to handle package delivery for itself and others.

Companies that want to reach the market increasingly have no choice but to ride Amazon’s rails. With Prime and digital assistant Alexa, from GE appliances to Ford cars, Bezos has lured a majority of households into making Amazon the default provider of everything they order online. Most Prime members no longer[6] comparison shop. This has forced competitors of all sizes—from major brands like Levi’s and KitchenAid to small-scale producers, e-commerce innovators, and independent brick-and-mortar stores—to abandon the idea of reaching consumers directly. Instead, they have to rely on Amazon’s platform to sell their goods.

Amazon exploits this dependence to dictate terms and prices to suppliers, and it uses the data it gathers from companies selling on its platform to weaken them as competitors[7]. A company that designs a popular product and builds a market for it on Amazon’s site can suddenly find that Amazon has introduced a nearly identical version[8] and given it top billing in search results. One study[9] found that, after a retailer becomes a seller on Amazon, it’s only a matter of weeks before Amazon brings the merchant’s most popular items into its own inventory.

Being both a direct retailer and a platform for other sellers gives Amazon novel weapons for shaking down suppliers. …

Continue reading:  Read the full article in Motherboard.[10]

Related: Statement: Regulators Should Block Amazon’s Acquisition of Whole Foods[11]

  1. Motherboard:
  2. nearly $1 of every $2:
  3. majority:
  4. dispense prescription drugs:
  5. 44 percent:
  6. no longer:
  7. weaken them as competitors:
  8. introduced a nearly identical version:
  9. study:
  10. Read the full article in Motherboard.:
  11. Statement: Regulators Should Block Amazon’s Acquisition of Whole Foods:

Source URL:

Boston Bringing Broadband Ready Ranking To Real Estate

by Lisa Gonzalez | June 24, 2017 5:06 am

Tenants often don’t know what level of Internet access they can expect in a new office location or home until they are already committed to moving in. Boston aims to change the unpredictability and improve the city’s connectivity by working with WiredScore to establish a Broadband Ready Building Questionnaire as part of the city’s planning and development review process.

Thinking Ahead For Better Development

Boston Planning & Development Agency (BPDA) and the city’s Department of Innovation and Technology (DoIT) have entered into a Memorandum of Understanding with the company. The questionnaire will apply to new projects, planned development areas, and institutional master plans and will be used to assess a project’s impact on matters such as transportation, access to public spaces, environment, and historic resources. The questions will also serve to obtain public feedback.

WiredScore[1] has developed Wired Certification, an international rating system for commercial real estate that offers several levels of building certification based on quality of connectivity. A high level of certification is not based solely on one provider that offers high capacity connectivity to a building. There are a number of factors that determine which level of certification applies to a WiredScore ranked facility.

Specialized For Boston

Boston and WiredScore developed a unique questionnaire that addresses the issues they consider most relevant. In addition to rights-of-way and entry to the building, the partners ask specifics about telecom rooms, delivery of service within the building, and the accommodation of future innovative technologies. They also ask property owners about ISP providers at the address and whether or not tenants have choice.

With better information, commercial and residential tenants can choose a home that fits their needs. According to Christopher:

One of the many problems with Internet access is the lack of reliable information about services at a given location. This agreement between Boston and WiredScore is a step in the right direction – better ISPs thrive in sunlight while the biggest cable and telephone companies rely on ignorance and monopoly.

Developers are not required to pursue certification, and the questionnaire isn’t mandatory. This long-term approach is an inexpensive way for Boston to improve connectivity throughout the community by encouraging competition and education for Bostonians. Developers and property owners also benefit; they’re able to market their facilities as certified.

Check out the questionnaire here[2].

PDF icon Boston Broadband Ready Buildings Questionnaire

This article was originally published on ILSR’s[3]. Read the original here.[4]

  1. WiredScore:
  2. Check out the questionnaire here:
  4. here.:

Source URL:

Louisville’s Opportunity: Connecting Their City, Receiving Big Savings

by Lisa Gonzalez | June 21, 2017 11:30 am

In order to save public dollars, improve municipal connectivity, and enhance the city’s ability to take advantage of various “Smart City” technologies, Louisville is planning to grow its existing fiber infrastructure[1]. Their plan will take advantage of aspects of the KentuckyWired project to reduce costs. An increasing number of local governments have taken a similar common sense approach and deployed fiber optic Institutional Networks[2] (I-Nets). In addition to cutting telecommunications costs, the infrastructure gives communities the freedom to predict future expenditures and find innovative ways to use publicly owned fiber.

Grow What You Have, Smartly

Louisville already owns a little more than 21 miles of fiber within the downtown business district. Under the Mayor’s proposed budget, $5.4 million would be allocated to add another 97 miles to the network. The estimated cost of the project deployment is low for an urban project because there are locations along the proposed route that overlap with the KentuckyWired project. In those areas, the company that is working with the state, Macquarie Capital, will install the fiber optic cables for Louisville alongside the KentuckyWired infrastructure. Macquarie will deploy both underground and on utility poles. This arrangement greatly reduces the cost for Louisville because they only pay for the materials.

According to the city’s chief of civic innovation[3], without the contribution of KentuckyWired, the project would have cost more than $15 million.

The network is only meant to serve community anchor institutions, along with municipal and Jefferson County facilities; there are no plans to connect homes or businesses. Louisville could lease excess capacity to Internet Service Providers (ISPs) in the future, which would generate revenue for the community.

In areas where KentuckyWired doesn’t run, such as West Louisville, the city will have to pay the entire cost of deployment. As an example of the savings generated by taking advantage of this larger opportunity, the connection to West Louisville is approximately 7 miles and will cost about $2.2 million. In the areas where Louisville is able to “double up” with Macquarie Capital’s crews for the remaining 90 miles, the cost of the project will be approximately $3.2 million. Funding for the project is part of the larger bonding that the Mayor has proposed; the final proposal will be presented to the Metro Council on June 22nd.

Improve City Services

Saving public funds are a major impetus for the project, but making life in Louisville better is always a goal. The new fiber will allow the city to reduce traffic congestion by connection 130 traffic signs to an ITS, which cuts down on commuter time and improves air quality. City officials also plan to use the network to improve public safety by connecting 18 more cameras. Gigabit connectivity will be available at 31 municipal facilities when the network is up and running, which will significantly increase productivity for city staff.

Public Savings

seal-louisville.pngThe chance to save public dollars on fiber deployment at this time will be complemented by savings generated moving forward. Leasing lines from incumbent providers adds up; they often raise their rates with little or no notice, making budgeting from year to year very difficult. Louisville will immediately save $78,000 in annual operating expenses and will have the freedom to use its own fiber network as it chooses without the fear of a provider increasing rates.

Martin County, Florida[4], chose to end the uncertainly of rate hikes and take back control of outrageous rate hikes from a national provider. When their franchise agreement with Comcast was about to expire, the company proposed an 800 percent increase in rates that amounted to highway robbery. Martin County officials determined it was more cost effective for government operations, schools, and other institutions on the network to invest in their own infrastructure.

Officials in Martin County had opportunities to cut costs similar to Louisville’s situation. There were other projects, including an Intelligent Traffic System (ITS) project in process; they reduced costs by sharing conduit space. Working across agency boundaries for a true “carpe diem” is an excellent way to save public dollars and forge relationships that make government more efficient.

Based on the provider’s proposal, Martin County and its institutions are saving millions each year, they don’t face surprising rate increases, and they have access to better connectivity. Read more about Martin County in our 2012 report, Florida Fiber: Martin County Saves Big with Gigabit Network[5].

Santa Monica, California, created a vision for better connectivity throughout the community in 1998. Their vision started with a Master Plan and an I-Net[6]. Working incrementally, they eliminated leased lines from incumbents, which allowed them to save the capital they needed to invest in their own infrastructure. They now have CityNet, a fast, affordable, reliable network; they’ve saved millions of taxpayer dollars and kept local dollars in the local economy. Santa Monica isn’t sending public funds away to the headquarters of the big telecom corporations so they’re able to use those funds for other purposes. Check out our 2014 case study[7] for the details on how they did it.

Louisville leadership knows that now is the time to complete this project at relatively low cost and in a speedy fashion. If they don’t seize the day, the project will cost more in dollars and time.


Challenged By Outsiders

The city’s efforts to save significant public dollars are being challenged by a group called, ironically, the Taxpayers Protection Alliance. The group is not from Louisville or Kentucky. We’ve seen this organization pop up whenever national incumbent providers want to sabotage municipal efforts to escape their monopoly. Groups like the (TPA) typically offer slanted, sloppy research packaged to appear professional but their material is riddled with errors.

TPA has the distinction of making our page dedicated to misinformation and falsities, the Correcting Community Fiber Fallacies[8] page. To give an example of one recent mistake, they claimed that Rockport, Maine, had spent $2.5 million on a fiber network. The town had actually spent $40,000 and was quite happy with the return on its investment – a partnership with local provider GWI.

A Smart Strategy Others Should Consider

Communities all over the U.S. are saving with publicly owned I-Nets:

Broward County, Florida[9]: Saving $780K per year on connectivity, and additional $28K per year on telephones, and their rates are not longer increasing 15 percent annually.

Ellensburg, Washington[10]: Saving $10,300 per month.

Virginia Beach, Virginia[11]: Estimated savings $500K annually.

Davenport, Iowa[12]: Saving $600K annually.

Falmouth, Massachusetts[13]: Saving $160K annually.

Those of us who follow developments in publicly owned fiber don’t always hear which communities have invested in I-Net infrastructure. Often communities take the initiative as a way to get services they can’t obtain from incumbent providers, reduce costs, or because they want better control over their telecommunications services. Those efforts typically result in substantial savings and often contribute to economic development, better connectivity in schools and libraries, and lay the ground work for the Internet infrastructure a community needs moving forward. I-Net infrastructure is an investment worth considering.

This article was originally published on ILSR’s[14]. Read the original here[15].

  1. planning to grow its existing fiber infrastructure:
  2. Institutional Networks:
  3. According to the city’s chief of civic innovation:
  4. Martin County, Florida:
  5. Florida Fiber: Martin County Saves Big with Gigabit Network:
  6. started with a Master Plan and an I-Net:
  7. Check out our 2014 case study:
  8. Correcting Community Fiber Fallacies:
  9. Broward County, Florida:
  10. Ellensburg, Washington:
  11. Virginia Beach, Virginia:
  12. Davenport, Iowa:
  13. Falmouth, Massachusetts:
  15. here:

Source URL:

Comcast Called Out For Lies Concerning Municipal Fiber Network

by Lisa Gonzalez | June 21, 2017 3:57 am

Sharing information about the fabulous work by communities investing in publicly owned Internet infrastructure is a full-time job. So is correcting the misinformation spread by national providers trying to undermine that important work. Fortunately, there are people with firsthand knowledge of those inaccuracies who can set the record straight.

It Started As A Simple Question

A recent post on Reddit[1] shows an email exchange between the Senior Director of Government and Regulatory Affairs at Comcast and the General Manager at NextLight in Longmont, Colorado. The email started when a resident from Fort Collins sent a message to the city council. Fort Collins is looking at better connectivity and researching their options.

The Fort Collins City Council forwarded those questions to Comcast and asked some one at the company to explain the difference between their gigabit connectivity and the gigabit service offered by NextLight, the municipal network in Longmont. As can be expected, Comcast’s representative replied with a long list of inaccuracies and outright falsities. In addition to claiming that Longmont’s service adds charges where it does not, Comcast’s rep tries to convince the Fort Collins City Council that NextLight’s service is inferior, but the fact show otherwise.

Fortunately, the email found its way to General Manager at NextLight Tom Roiniotis, who made the time to correct the misinterpretations. As is often the case in the “webiverse,” the email with accurate information found its way to Reddit.

The post, cleverly titled “GM drops the mic on the Comcast rep” is here[2], but we’ve also republished it. For some testimonies on Longmont’s NextLight service, check out the comments on the Reddit thread.


logo-reddit.pngPer CORA (Colorado Open Records Act), this email is available to the public. Below is a recent email exchange between the NextLight (Longmont) General Manager and the Comcast Senior Gov’t & Regulatory Affairs rep. He refuted most of the information the Comcast rep was trying to peddle to City Council. Both Loveland and Fort Collins City Council received these responses.

All responses from the NextLight GM are quoted below. Original questions are also included.

June 8, 2017

Comcast: If you look at Longmont’s residential rate card, which is attached, the price for 1 gig varies greatly. If you were able to sign up within the first 3 months of NextLight reaching your home, then you can get 1 gig for $49.95 per month but if you miss that window then it is $99.95 per month (see the Terms & Conditions for Charter Member attached).

NextLight: Currently over 99% of LPC’s NextLight Gig customers are Charter Member customers. We’ve found that the community was very eager to subscribe and did sign-up quickly. Those very few that did miss the Charter Member period and signed-up for our standard service offering move to a loyalty rate of just $59.95 after 12 months, as was noted in the related document you sent with your email.

Comcast: In both cases, you also need the Wireless Gateway which is $8.95 per month.

NextLight: Actually customers are not required to lease a gateway from LPC NextLight. Customers have the choice to utilize our service without a wireless gateway, use their own, or lease one from us. Currently over 75% of our customers choose to either not utilize a wireless gateway or use their own.

Comcast: Then there is an installation charge of either $39.95 or $49.95.

NextLight: All standard installations have been and continue to be waived. This is noted in LPC’s FAQ section, in marketing materials, communicated to customers by our CSRs, and recently re-emphasized on our website and rate cards.

Comcast: And if you use a paper bill, that is an additional $2.00 per month.

NextLight: LPC made the decision up front to provide paperless billing as the standard. After all, NextLight customers are internet customers and all have the ability to receive electronic billing. We also considered sustainability/environmental impacts in the decision to not automatically print and mail paper bills. Currently less than 2% of our residential customers have requested a “snail mail”/paper bill.

Comcast: Plus all additional taxes and fees.

NextLight: There are no taxes or other fees for our NextLight Internet customers. Our Charter Members receive an Internet bill for $49.95; not a penny more.


Comcast: Thus, a customer is looking at around either $70 per month plus the installation charge of $40 or $50 plus taxes and fees if you sign-up within the first 3 months or $110, plus installation charge of $40 or $50, plus taxes and fees.

NextLight: This is simply inaccurate – please see responses above.

Comcast: Also, Longmont’s Wireless Gateway is not capable of 1 gig wifi, thus, if you want to truly get 1 gig you have to plug in a hard line into your computer. (See further explanation of wifi routers below.)

NextLight: This is also inaccurate. Nextlight wireless routers are 4×4 MU-MIMO capable and dual-band, supporting connection speeds up to 2033Mbps. The 5GHz wireless AC mode alone supports connection speeds up to 1733Mbps.

Comcast: It is unclear to me if there is a data cap for NextLight.

NextLight: NextLight has no data caps. This is also covered in our FAQ’s, our marketing materials, and communicated to our customer by our CSR’s. We appreciate you pointing out that it is unclear to you – we will look to improve our marketing and communications on this point.

Question from Fort Collins City Council: 1) Why is Comcast offering their 1 gig service to residents of Longmont for only $70/month but is charging Fort Collins customers $110/month to $120/month? Is there some additional value that Fort Collins residents are receiving for their additional $40 to $50/month that Longmont residents are not receiving?

Comcast: As with many of our products and other internet service tiers, our pricing varies by market. Since this is a new product, we are experimenting with consumer demand and acceptance, including pricing as a variable. We are doing this testing throughout different markets in the western United States.

logo-nextlight-lpc.pngOur everyday price for 1 Gigabit service throughout the entire western United States is $159.95 per month, without a contract.

We are testing a promotional price of $109.99 per month throughout all of Colorado with a one-year service agreement. In addition, we are testing a $70 per month promotional offer in some areas of the state including Longmont, Erie and Niwot (as well as across the entire city of Detroit). Additional prices and promotions may be tested in the future.

Yes, there is the additional charge of $10 for a new modem, which can do up to 9 gigs down over wifi.

This is another very important difference between our product and Longmont’s. If you have Longmont’s 1 gig service and a wifi router, you max out around 150 to 250 Mbps; however, with Comcast’s 1 gig service and new modem you can get 1 gig over wifi. Thus, with Longmont to get 1 gig you must plug in your computer to a hard line; whereas, with our 1 gig product, you and your family can receive 1 gig over wifi.

NextLight: Again, this is not accurate. NextLight provided wireless routers as well as most of the wireless routers our tech savvy customers purchase for themselves are capable of much higher speeds than 250 Mbps.

The most significant difference, as pointed out by Mr. Akins below, is that NextLight provides a true symmetrical 1 Gbps service (that’s 1 gig up and 1 gig down), while Comcast’s service only provides 35Mbs upload. That means that NextLight’s upload speed is about 29 Times Faster than Comcast’s. A 2GB backup to the cloud with 1Gbs upload speed takes less than 20 seconds with NextLight service, but would take almost 8 minutes with Comcast’s service. A full PC backup of 100GB (gigabytes) of data to a cloud service such as the popular “Crash Plan” would take about 13 minutes with NextLight compared to over 6 hours with Comcast. Regardless of how fast Comcast wireless routers are claimed to be, they can’t provide upload speeds any faster than the 35Mbps limitation on Comcast’s “1 Gig” service.

CCFF-logo_3_plain-small.jpegComcast: Finally, as you are aware, we have a data cap at 1 Terabyte per month. (There is less than 2% of all our customers throughout the nation that reach and exceed this limit.) So there is no additional charge for data up to 1 Terabyte, and if you do go over, you can purchase an unlimited plan for an additional $50.

Question from Fort Collins City Council: 2) What are the additional charges, if any, for modem rental, data overages, or unlimited data? Why is Comcast potentially hiding additional modem rental fees and data overage charges and their upstream rate from customers when advertising their service?

Comcast: Please see the explanation above. In addition, Comcast is not hiding additional fees and costs. Please compare the advertising by Longmont with that of Comcast’s and you will find that Comcast is actually more transparent and clearer than Longmont.

NextLight: Again we welcome any input on where LPC NextLight information is unclear in anyway so we can address it. I invite you to touch base with me directly on any future questions or comments so we can ensure all are accurately informed of the NextLight services and pricing available to our customers. Thank You.

Not The First Time, Not The Last…

Fortunately, Roiniotis had the opportunity to set the record straight in this instance, but Comcast has an army of lawyers that get paid handsomely to spread this type of misinformation to local elected officials. The only way to combat these falsities are to stay diligent and to educate people whenever the opportunity arises.

In order to help stop the spread of similar chicanery from big providers intent on limiting competition, we’ve created a clearinghouse of resources that address misinformation. Check out our Correnting Community Fiber Fallacies[3] page.

Image of the Longmont Public Library by Billy Hathorn (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0[4] or GFDL[5]], via Wikimedia Commons[6].

This article was originally published on ILSR’s[7]. Read the original here[8]

  1. recent post on Reddit:
  2. “GM drops the mic on the Comcast rep” is here:
  3. Correnting Community Fiber Fallacies:
  4. CC BY-SA 3.0:
  5. GFDL:
  6. via Wikimedia Commons:
  8. here:

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The Rise and Fall of the Word ‘Monopoly’ in American Life

by Stacy Mitchell | June 20, 2017 6:00 pm

For several decades, the term was a fixture of newspaper headlines and campaign speeches. Then something changed.

This article was first published in  The Atlantic[1].


If “monopoly” sounds like a word from another era, that’s because, until recently, it was. Throughout the middle of the 20th century, the term was frequently used in newspaper headlines, campaign speeches, and State of the Union addresses delivered by Republican and Democratic presidents alike. Breaking up too-powerful companies was a bipartisan goal and on the minds of many voters. But, starting in the 1970s, the word retreated from the public consciousness. Not coincidentally, at the same time, the enforcement of anti-monopoly policy grew increasingly toothless.

The story of why the word and the movement dropped off the map in tandem carries lessons about how an economic policy’s effectiveness can be its own undoing, and about how people are thinking about corporate power today. Because monopoly is back. As concentration has soared to levels not seen in decades, economists are talking about monopoly[2] again; recent scholarship has linked consolidation with rising inequality and other economic ills. Politicians on both the left and right are talking about it, too[3]—the announcement last week that Amazon is planning to buy Whole Foods has refocused some politicians’ attention on the subject[4].

Sentiments were similar back in the 1920s, the last period of high levels of corporate concentration and inequality. Isolated protests against big business erupted periodically then as they do now. People who lived in small towns fought the grocery giant A&P’s displacement[5] of local retailers; farmers rallied against the control Wall Street banks had over the agricultural industry[6]; and residents of big cities protested the high prices charged by holding companies that had gained control of the electricity supply. (more…)[7]

  1. The Atlantic:
  2. are talking about monopoly:
  3. are talking about it, too:
  4. refocused some politicians’ attention on the subject:
  5. fought the grocery giant A&P’s displacement:
  6. rallied against the control Wall Street banks had over the agricultural industry:
  7. (more…):

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Boulder County Incentive Program Drives Adoption of Two ‘Sexy Electrics’: Solar and Electric Cars — Episode 47 of Local Energy Rules Podcast

by Karlee Weinmann | June 19, 2017 12:00 pm

An innovative group purchasing program in Boulder County, Colorado, put hundreds of electric vehicles on local roads and sparked the addition of more than 1 megawatt of rooftop solar in its first two years. Now, the initiative is a springboard for efforts nationwide to allow consumers to seize control of their clean energy future.

The Boulder County project was the first in the country to offer dual incentives for integrating electric vehicles and rooftop solar. It started as part of an ongoing push to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, taking specific aim at transportation, a major contributor of harmful pollutants. To date, it’s paying off — and in more ways than one.

In addition to bringing more clean energy technology online, the program’s financial benefits for the community far outpaced its costs, Brad Smith, the county’s Sustainability Outreach and Education Specialist, recently told ILSR’s John Farrell. The county spent just $650 on marketing and outreach, a miniscule price for the gains it has seen.

By Smith’s tally, every $1 invested by Boulder County drove $794 in community benefits. That calculus doesn’t include Smith’s time — which he says is cheap anyway. All things considered, he said, the payoff is enormous.

“These numbers are absolutely off the chart for what we are typically working with in the county, and so it was a wildly successful program for us,” Smith told Farrell, who leads the Energy Democracy Initiative at ILSR. “In addition to all of that, our residents were really, really excited about the program.”

Note: We published this podcast and post alongside a new, comprehensive report — Choosing the Electric Avenue — Unlocking Savings, Emissions Reductions, and Community Benefits of Electric Vehicles[1] — that explores in-depth the influence electric vehicles can have in building clean energy economies at the community scale. 


Proven Results

The program spurred 392 electric vehicle sales and the installation of 1.2 megawatts of rooftop solar (in separate 205 arrays), including participants in communities outside Boulder County that heard about the program and wanted in. In the county itself, home to the Nissan dealership, residents used incentives to purchase 289 electric vehicles and build 123 solar systems that have a combined capacity of 692 kilowatts.

Despite being home to less than one-tenth of 1% of the U.S. population, Boulder County drivers accounted for 3.5% of total nationwide Leaf sales[7] in the first year of the program.

Source: Southwest Energy Efficiency Project

The deal included more than $11,500 in discounts, including incentives from both the local dealership and Nissan North America. In addition, the dealership offered 0% financing over 72 months to eligible customers plus free charging at any charging stations in its network over the first two years of vehicle ownership. Lessees could also tap into certain smaller discounts.

On the solar side, a price tag of $3.50 per installed watt sat alongside incentives ranging from $250 to $750 per array, depending on the installer.

But the payoff didn’t end there. Electric vehicle owners also enjoy fuel and maintenance savings compared with gas-powered vehicle owners. In 2015, the equivalent cost of electricity hovered around $1.07 per gallon — enough to generate significant benefits for LEAF owners, even when gas prices hung below the $2-per-gallon mark.

Solar and EVs: A Natural Fit

Boulder County might have been the first to bring electric vehicles and solar together under a single incentive program, but it was hardly a novel move — the same consumers that tend to favor electric vehicles also like renewables. By combining the two, the county made a run at increasing the effectiveness of its program in reducing emissions.

Going forward, as more electric vehicles hit the roads, they could become pivotal assets to the power grid. With daytime charging options, these cars could soak up excess solar energy during the sunniest part of the day, when production is highest.

In the first year of the Boulder County program, roughly 13% of participants who installed solar also purchased electric vehicles[8]. About 7% of those households had designed their solar arrays to power their new electric vehicle in addition to their home.

Most solar owners see benefits via net metering, which sends their power onto the grid and in turn receive bill credits from their utility. Even in these cases, when the electrons from their solar panels aren’t soaked up by their vehicle on-site, they effectively offset at least a portion of Leaf charging with renewable generation.

A Blueprint for Others

The Boulder County program borrows from a model piloted in Portland, Oregon, more than a half-decade ago. There, a neighborhood group launched a program for solar panels that with the help of federal funding expanded citywide, driving up solar installations by 300% between 2009 and 2010. Particularly after Boulder County proved the framework could also work with electric vehicles, other players across the U.S. are testing it in their markets[9].

In Boulder County, the program quickly took hold. Organizers spent the spring of 2015 laying the foundation for implementation, with a plan to close the first phase at the end of September of that year. But demand in the community was so high that they extended the program period through December and opened it for another round in 2016.

Testimonials gathered as part of a program review by the Southwest Energy Efficiency Project showcase the enthusiasm around the Boulder County model. Consumers said the program smoothed out the process of learning about electric vehicles and purchasing one, while the dealership reported easier sales to better-informed customers.

In proving demand for electric vehicles in its communities, Boulder County’s program reinforced the appeal of incentive programs. Other communities across the country have replicated the effort, sometimes with the help of utilities eager to capture the benefits of increased electricity demand. One study[10] suggests that if the average car travels 12,000 miles annually, an electric vehicle would increase its household’s energy needs by 33% (or roughly 4,000 kilowatt-hours per year).

Now, the utility serving the area and much of Colorado, Xcel Energy, has effectively taken the reins in Boulder County with a program that delivers $10,000 in instant benefits to customers when they buy a new Leaf. A similar effort launched recently in Ohio[11], where utility AEP is offering a $10,000 discount on new Leafs — open to all residents in its territory, even if they purchase electricity from someplace else.

What’s Next for Boulder County?

With Xcel running its incentive program, the county has taken a step back. While it planned to open a new round of vehicle incentives this year, Smith said Xcel has a solid framework in place and the capacity to extend its benefits more widely, across Colorado. Boulder County will revive its electric vehicle program if necessary, but for now, its staff will help guide other administrators and focus on new efforts, including a forthcoming incentive for electric bikes[12].

Down the line, the Boulder County model could be more widely used to encourage adoption of other technologies, including ones that improve energy efficiency. The county is also exploring ways to help community groups and faith-based organizations lead similar initiatives.

“We’ve kind of become a support system for other folks wanting to run this, and then as other entities run these programs, we’ve taken a step back and simply provided the outreach and marketing,” Smith said.

For the Boulder program evaluation and a handbook on replicating the program elsewhere, check out the website of the Southwest Energy Efficiency Project[13].

Photo Credit: Vetatur Fumare via Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0)[14].

This article originally posted at[15]. For timely updates, follow John Farrell[16] or Karlee Weinmann[17] on Twitter or get the Energy Democracy weekly[18] update.

  1. Choosing the Electric Avenue — Unlocking Savings, Emissions Reductions, and Community Benefits of Electric Vehicles:
  2. [Image]:
  3. Play in new window:
  4. Download:
  5. Android:
  6. RSS:
  7. 3.5% of total nationwide Leaf sales:
  8. also purchased electric vehicles:
  9. other players across the U.S. are testing it in their markets:
  10. One study:
  11. similar effort launched recently in Ohio:
  12. incentive for electric bikes:
  13. Southwest Energy Efficiency Project:
  14. Vetatur Fumare via Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0):
  16. John Farrell:
  17. Karlee Weinmann:
  18. Energy Democracy weekly:

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Electric Cooperative, County Collaborate To Expand Fiber-to-the-Home in Rural Virginia

by Lisa Gonzalez | June 16, 2017 5:01 am

Prince George County, Virginia, and its electric cooperative recently entered into an agreement that will allow Prince George Electric Cooperative (PGEC) to offer Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) to certain areas in the county. The arrangement came after a successful pilot project that proved residents and businesses in the rural community were interested in better connectivity. The agreement will inject funding into the cooperative’s plans to bring high-quality connectivity to all its members.

From Rural Pilot To Proven

In February, officials from PGEC reported to the County Board of Supervisors[1] that the pilot project was under way. The Virginia State Corporation Commission approved the cooperative’s formation of its PGEC Enterprises subsidiary, which will offer connectivity to members. The co-op has connected premises along one stretch of Quaker Road in Prince George County, and received applications for installation from more than 40 property owners.

By the time PGEC had finished deploying in the pilot area in early May, a total of 49 premises were connected to the network. According to the co-op’s VP, Casey Logan, that figure represents approximately two-thirds of potential subscribers.

Jumpstarting Co-op Broadband

The performance agreement[2] between Prince George County[3], PGEC, and the Industrial Development Authority (IDA) will provide $1 million to the cooperative in IDA bond funding to expand the pilot project to a wider network. The funds are part of spring bonding that covers a number of county projects. The County Board voted unanimously[4] to dedicate the funds to the broadband expansion project.

In addition to connecting all its substations, PGEC will connect any residence, business, community anchor institution, or public facility within 1,000 feet of a state road along the fiber route. Approximately 500 premises are located within the planned fiber route. The project should take about four years to complete.

PGEC plans to dedicate an additional $5 million to the project over the next five years and has said that[5], once the 500 premises are connected, they will likely continue to connect premises in their service area.

“When the cable and phone companies couldn’t meet the high speed Internet needs of the communities because of the feasibility of expansion, we made the numbers work,” Logan stated. “We were there first.”

If fewer than 500 premises are connected within the proposed time period, PGEC will pay back $2,000 per premise that is not connected. The performance agreement also stipulates that the obligation of the contract between the county, the cooperative, and the IDA is a contingency that remains in effect if there is any sale of assets.

So Many Needs, Such Slow Speeds

Many premises in Prince George County rely on satellite, which often has harsh data caps and expensive overage charges. In addition to providing more reliable, affordable connectivity for K-12 students who increasingly need high-quality Internet access[6] for homework assignments, the network is offering better connectivity for emergency services in the county.

[Casey] Logan said the need for county children to have internet access for their schoolwork was a big part of the co-op’s motivation. “If we didn’t try and do something, generation after generation of our children are not going to have the opportunities they need,” he said.

seal-prince-george-cnty-VA.jpegCost of service for residents is $82 per month, which includes $75 for symmetrical 30 Megabits per second (Mbps) Internet access and $7 per month for router lease. There is no limitation on the amount of data subscribers use. While the performance agreement stipulates that PGEC provide speeds that meet the FCC definition of broadband (25 Mbps / 3 Mbps) officials from PGEC have stated that the current speed of 30 Mbps may be increased in the future, depending on subscriber input.

The performance agreement requires the cooperative to connect facilities such as to the Central Wellness Center, Prince George Emergency Crew building, the Burrowsville Fire Department and the town’s community center. Each facility will pay the residential rate during the course of the agreement. Later, those facilities will pay commercial rates, which have not been established yet.

With the lack of urban areas, it isn’t surprising that approximately 61 percent of all businesses in the county are home-based. Without high-quality connectivity, however, businesses’ face a limited ability to offer their goods or services to global customers. They also can’t share data rich documents with colleagues, which also limits opportunities.

Co-ops Are Doin’ It For Members

At a community meeting in May, Logan told attendees[7], “We did what we did because frankly nobody else would do it.”

President and CEO Mike Milandro added, “I honestly believe that without this, rural America will die.”

Prince George County[3] is home to approximately 36,000 people, many of whom work in the public sector. There is no major urban area in the county, and much of the 282 square mile county is rural. Agriculture is an important part of the economy and about 2,100 people live in the county seat of the town of Prince George.

Sparsely populated areas like Prince George County don’t attract the attention of national providers because it isn’t profitable enough to invest with so few potential subscribers who live across the entire county. All across the U.S. rural telephone and electric cooperatives are examining what their members need and considering offering high-quality Internet access. A growing number are offering gigabit connectivity[8].

PGEC is carrying on a tradition common among rural cooperatives – taking steps to improve life in the community[9]:

“It was a natural for us,” said M.E. “Mike” Malandro, president and CEO. “We’re in the business of putting in infrastructure and providing customer service.”

For the co-op, the impetus to take on broadband was simply to give back to the community, especially in the rural parts of the county.

Photo of Prince George County Regional Heritage Center courtesy of The Best Part of Virginia[10].

PDF icon Performance Agreement: Prince George County, Industrial Development Authority, and PGEC Enterprises, Virginia

This article was originally published on ILSR’s[11]. Read the original here[12].

  1. reported to the County Board of Supervisors:
  2. performance agreement:
  3. Prince George County:
  4. voted unanimously:
  5. and has said that:
  6. increasingly need high-quality Internet access:
  7. Logan told attendees:
  8. are offering gigabit connectivity:
  9. to improve life in the community:
  10. The Best Part of Virginia:
  12. here:

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Why Local Self-Reliance? – Episode 22 of the Building Local Power Podcast

by Nick Stumo-Langer | June 15, 2017 12:00 pm

In this week’s episode of Building Local Power[1], host Christopher Mitchell[2] (of our Community Broadband Networks initiative) interviews ILSR co-founder David Morris[3] about the history of the Institute for Local Self-Reliance and why the message of local self-reliance is as relevant today as it was in the 1970s. This wide-ranging conversation takes in the role that new communications technology is facilitating concentration and how cities are rising to the moment by exerting their own power.

Full transcript is available here[4].

“No matter whether you’re a conservative or a radical, you hate your utility company, and you hate your utility company because it’s a monopoly, and it’s remote, and it’s not responsive, and for a whole bunch of reasons,” says David Morris “So when you’re starting to talk about energy that can be harnessed at the local level, and the rooftop level, and the neighborhood level, and the metropolitan level, people are extremely enthusiastic. That cuts across ideologies, and it’s that political, I think, as well as environmental dynamic that’s the most important of all.”


  1. Building Local Power:
  2. Christopher Mitchell:
  3. David Morris:
  4. here: #transcript
  5. [Image]:
  6. Play in new window:
  7. Download:
  8. Android:
  9. RSS:
  10. (more…):

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Indiana Eases Easements For Electric Cooperatives, Allows Fiber Infrastructure Investments

by Lisa Gonzalez | June 14, 2017 2:29 am

The State Legislature in Indiana sent SB 478 to Governor Eric Holcomb earlier this session; he recently signed the bill into law[1]. Also known as the Facilitating Internet Broadband Rural Expansion (FIBRE) Act, the new law allows electric cooperatives with easements for electric lines to use those same easement for fiber infrastructure. The change in existing law will allow rural electric cooperatives to bring high-quality Internet access to the many rural regions in Indiana that are now unserved or underserved.

Updating Easements For Connectivity

SB 478 applies only to existing easements between electric suppliers and property owners. It doesn’t apply to new electric easements, railroad property, or the installation of new poles, conduit, or other structures. Other exceptions also apply to limit the new easement applications to existing infrastructure.

The language of the bill provides in detail the steps that a property owner can take if they oppose the installation of the new infrastructure under the purview of an existing easement. It also lays out the information that an electricity provider must provide to the property owner regarding the plan for fiber infrastructure deployment and planned delivery. The bill goes on to establish further procedures if a property owner decides to pursue legal action if they feel their property value is decreased due to the new infrastructure or other related matters.

Lastly, the bill lays out procedural requirements for an electric cooperative that decides to offer broadband Internet. They must create a separate entity and maintain a separate accounting system.

Read the entire bill here[2].

Learning From The Co-op Guys

Republican State Senator Eric Koch, lead author on the bill, introduced the legislation as part of his ongoing efforts to improve connectivity in Indiana’s rural areas. According to a March article in the Indiana Economic Digest[3]:

A couple of years ago, Koch was working on another issue with the Indiana Electric Cooperatives, and he saw maps of all the areas that are served by REMC’s in Indiana.

“As we were working on this other issue, it occurred to me that those maps aligned almost exactly with ones I had of unserved areas in rural Indiana. … I immediately saw them as the key. I said, ‘You guys got to help me. We have to find a way to leverage your role in rural areas. That was kind of the beginning of the conversation a year or two ago.”

The cooperatives educated Koch about the easement issue. When state laws governing electric line easements were developed in the 1930s, lawmakers couldn’t imagine the need to extend those easements to telecommunications infrastructure.

utility-pole-1.pngThe bill passed with strong bipartisan support in both legislative bodies, passing 49 – 1 in the Senate and 96 -2 in the House. The Governor recently signed the bill into law.

States Can Help Cooperatives Help Citizens

West Virginia also passed policy legislation[4] this session to encourage a cooperative model to expand high-quality Internet access in rural areas. Perhaps other states will follow these two common sense examples and ease state laws that discourage electric cooperatives from doing what they need to do to improve local connectivity.

North Carolina residents and businesses could benefit if its lawmakers looked north to these two states. Electric cooperatives must contend with laws that limit their access to capital for the purpose of offering broadband to cooperative members in North Carolina. We analyzed the situation in our 2016 report, North Carolina Connectivity: The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly[5].

At the ceremonial signing of SB 478, Tom VanParis, CEO if Indiana Electric Cooperatives said:

“Internet access has become essential to the American way of life. Similar to 80 years ago when most rural Hoosiers lived without electricity, much of rural Indiana still lacks quality Internet options.”

PDF icon SB 478 Facilitating Internet Rural Broadband Expansion (FIBRE) Act – Indiana

Photo Credit: tpsdave via Pixabay[6] (CC0)

This article was originally published on ILSR’s[7]. Read the original here[8].

  1. recently signed the bill into law:
  2. Read the entire bill here:
  3. March article in the Indiana Economic Digest:
  4. West Virginia also passed policy legislation:
  5. North Carolina Connectivity: The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly:
  6. tpsdave via Pixabay:
  8. here:

Source URL:

Refute Misinformation With Our “Correcting Community Fiber Fallacies” Page

by Lisa Gonzalez | June 13, 2017 6:23 am

As an increasing number of communities investigate the possibility of publicly owned Internet networks, big cable and telephone companies are spending big dollars to fund the spread of misinformation. In order to combat untruths and share accurate data, we’ve created the Correcting Community Fiber Fallacies[1] page. You will find resources to help you identify and respond to some of the most used resources, arguments, and tactics from groups aiming to quash better connectivity through local control; you’ll also find the best ways to address them.

Reports, Reports, Reports

A common strategy from companies with de facto monopolies such as Comcast and AT&T are funding reports created by entities that appear to be nonpartisan academic groups. They also fund groups to generate similar anti-municipal network material from organizations that pretend to operate in the best interests of taxpayers or citizens. In reality, these groups produce slanted material intended to capitalize on the lack of information most people have about publicly owned networks. They aim to fill the void quickly and repeatedly with misstatements in order to taint any later discussion of public investment.

One way to influence decision makers and the general public who are learning about ways to improve local connectivity is by taking advantage of the credibility that may be attached to a seemingly academic report. We provide several examples on the Correcting Community Fiber Fallacies[1] page and offer a few direct responses that point out the many factual and analytical errors.

Similarly, we offer examples of rebuttals to some of the most common arguments against public Internet network infrastructure. In addition to general rumors, we found some excellent rebuttals to specific lies that national providers attempt to spread by repeating early and often.

Information Is Power

The Correcting Community Fiber Fallacies[1] page also takes a look at how misinformation gets started, how it spreads, and ways to stop it in its tracks. From our page:

Keeping the community well informed can prevent confusion and derail misinformation campaigns before they get started. Sometimes, despite best efforts, rumors and misinformation can still spread.

We offer seven “Do’s and Don’ts” that we find effective in repairing misperception. It’s important not to alienate the people with whom you want to share information. In addition to examples, you can find links to other helpful resources and we encourage you to check back; we’ll update the page periodically with new resources and developments.

This article was originally published on ILSR’s[2]. Read the original here[3].

  1. Correcting Community Fiber Fallacies:
  3. here:

Source URL:

Will All New Vehicles Be Electric By 2030? One Expert Says Yes — Episode 46 of Local Energy Rules Podcast

by Karlee Weinmann | June 12, 2017 11:00 am

Is the U.S. on the cusp of a clean energy revolution that will fundamentally change how we live, work, and get around?

That’s exactly what entrepreneur and lecturer Tony Seba argues in his book, Clean Disruption of Energy and Transportation[1]. His multi-pronged predictions include: all new energy will be provided by solar or wind, all new mass-market vehicles will be electric, and all of these vehicles will be self-driving or semi-autonomous — by 2030, or maybe sooner.

Seba explained his breathtaking vision in a recent conversation with John Farrell, who leads the Energy Democracy Initiative at the Institute for Local Self-Reliance. He pointed to a series of factors, including falling energy storage costs and fast-moving innovation in the auto and renewables industries, that he says will reinvent day-to-day life in America.

Note: We published this podcast and post alongside a new, comprehensive report — Choosing the Electric Avenue — Unlocking Savings, Emissions Reductions, and Community Benefits of Electric Vehicles[2] — that explores in-depth the influence electric vehicles can have in building clean energy economies at the community scale.


Seba’s forecast is a lofty forecast, but he insists this kind of upheaval isn’t new — there’s a clear formula for getting there. Just think of the smartphone.

A decade ago, iPhone and Android devices met with skepticism when they made their debuts. The market hadn’t seen multifunctional devices like them, and they came at a premium price. But over time, smartphones proved their value and found their way into average consumers’ hands. Prices dropped, and slow-moving competitors suffered. In the end, iPhone and Android spurred a total market disruption.

Now, the electric vehicle industry is on a similar trajectory, in the early stages of a new market transformation. The same is true for power delivery, and electric utilities — notoriously averse to shifting market dynamics — face an existential crisis if they refuse to adapt.

“Disruptions happen from the outside,” Seba said. “Usually incumbents either don’t see their disruption coming or they don’t see it coming quickly. They usually deny it ‘til it’s too late for them to do anything about it.”

Electric Vehicles Unlock Unique Benefits

At the crux of this budding revolution are the benefits electric vehicles offer compared with their gas-powered counterparts, and consumers are beginning to bite.

Tesla, the pioneering luxury electric vehicle maker, reported a year ago[8] that roughly 400,000 people had put down a non-refundable $1,000 deposit on its forthcoming Model 3, considered its first “affordable” car.

Tesla’s brand has a certain cachet that puts it at the forefront of the conversation, but electric vehicles in general are becoming more popular as battery costs decline and they can travel farther between charges. Electric vehicle technology now outstrips internal combustion engines on a number of fronts, Seba said, amping up their appeal.

For one, the electric motor lasts substantially longer — it can handle 1 million miles versus the 200,000 for an internal combustion engine, he said. They are substantially cheaper to run on a per-mile basis and generally see lower maintenance costs (see the chart below from our new report[9]). At the same time, they can store energy to power drivers’ homes (and vice versa), an impossibility for traditional cars.

From where Seba sits, the demonstrated advantages of an electric vehicle increasingly overpower skepticism of them.

“The experts get it wrong when they say, ‘Oh, gasoline is cheaper and therefore that’s going to affect the EV market,’” he said. “That’s like folks saying 15 years ago that Kodak film was going to get cheaper and therefore digital cameras were not going to disrupt it. At some point, gasoline cost is going to be irrelevant in this disruption.”

Utilities Staring Down an Existential Crisis

The momentum propelling electric vehicle innovation coincides with shifts in the electric industry at large. The traditional utility business model — a one-way power delivery system whose financial success depends on expensive infrastructure and electricity sales — is buckling under pressure from consumers prioritizing renewables and energy efficiency.

The falling cost of solar, which like electric vehicle batteries has been on a sharp decline for years, means the cost of on-site power generation increasingly competes with power delivered by the utility. Continued drops in solar materials and installation costs will open that opportunity to more consumers, underscoring the economic case for utilities to better accommodate solar.

By Seba’s calculations, the per-watt cost of solar has plunged from $100 when the technology was new in 1970 to just 33 cents per watt today. During the same span, he found the costs of other energy sources — coal, oil, nuclear power, and natural gas — swelled by at least six times, and as much as 16 times. 

Ongoing work to refine solar panels has made them cheaper — every time the base of installed solar doubles, the cost of the panels drops by nearly a quarter, he estimated. Today, the panels are among the least expensive parts of putting solar on a rooftop. Soft costs, like for permitting and interest on financing, both contribute more to the overall price tag, underscoring the impact of improvements to the manufacturing process.

As lower prices push solar further out into the marketplace, those other costs are also poised to fall, Seba said. Eventually, rooftop solar will be a no-brainer for people building a new home or replacing their roofs. In addition, Seba said, it’s only a matter of time before more affordable storage increases the value proposition of on-site generation.

“The cost of a solar rooftop is going to be at the same level or even cheaper than the cost of an asphalt roof,” he said. “At that point, essentially you have free solar or even negative-cost solar and that day is not too far away.”

Industry Stalwarts Dig In

Automotive and electric utility stalwarts have largely sidestepped the competitive concerns that loom as consumers clamor for new options. Car makers, whose bottom lines center on after-market expenses like maintenance, have plenty to lose. So do utilities, whose long-held monopoly status is threatened by customers who can increasingly choose to generate their own power.

“They are in danger of being disrupted…Tesla and other electric vehicle companies…have nothing to lose,” said Seba.

Rather than adjust their outdated business models, industry titans have dug in their heels. Electric utilities, for example, have leaned on legislators and regulators[10] to enact policies designed to diminish the financial feasibility of rooftop solar and other distributed generation.

A particularly egregious coalition of Florida utility interests last year spent more than $20 million on a campaign to pass a constitutional amendment, disguised as a pro-consumer choice measure, that in reality would have curbed solar growth in the Sunshine State. Voters ultimately struck down[11] that proposal, but fee hikes and unfair solar compensation schemes loom nationwide.

The strategy might slow progress in the short term, but Seba predicts it won’t be effective for long. Within a few years, he said, distributed solar will simply be too good a deal for consumers to pass up.

“Utilities have been monopolies for 100 years. Edison and Tesla would know a utility today…they have been able to maintain very, very inefficient economic system because they are rewarded by their capital expenditures. …They have had no incentive to make make electricity cheaper and less wasteful. When you get new companies coming in from the outside – solar companies and battery companies and so on – who have nothing to lose and everything to gain and who are competitive, the monopolies have no chance. … Today’s solar is cheaper than what utilities sell to us in hundreds of markets around the world, and that is why solar is accelerating — because millions of consumers are making the economically rational choice, which is to go with solar,” Seba said. “By about 2020, essentially solar plus storage is going to become cheaper than the cost of transmission.”

The New Clean Energy Economy

Even as more Americans cozy up to the idea of generating their own power for their homes, businesses, and cars, not everyone will go totally off-grid. The idea of this mass “grid defection” has been overblown, Seba said. Many people — including renters or households with imperfect rooftop conditions — simply can’t install on-site solar. Others who can are unable to generate enough power on their own to go completely off-grid.

Still, while the utilities will retain a significant portion of their customer base in the long term, that doesn’t mean the existing approach to electric and transportation infrastructure will cut it. Electric vehicles and distributed renewables are both fundamentally incompatible with the aging systems in place today. And both are expected to grow exponentially in coming years.

Improved, cheaper battery technology feeds into growth among both electric vehicles and renewable generation. Seba describes a virtuous cycle: more solar with storage increases the demand for batteries, in turn driving down the cost of batteries, in turn reducing the price of electric vehicles, in turn increasing the demand for electricity via solar and storage, and so on.

So what does that mean for the electricity system, including electrified transportation? To Seba, the future looks like a “Internet of energy.” Households, businesses, and municipal facilities will generate their own power, which then can store, manage, and sell to other users.

As the price of electricity goes down, the value of this community-oriented distribution will be rise. Falling electricity prices suggest an uptick in demand, spotlighting the need for a robust network that enables various on-site producers to efficiently and effectively spread their power around, Seba said.

“It’s going to become more of a two-way thing, just like the Internet is a two-way thing,” he said. “We can upload and download electricity, if you will.”

We’d like to think that Seba is describing ILSR’s vision of a transition to from energy monopoly to energy democracy, shown below. 


Photo credit: Windell Oskay via Flickr (CC BY 2.0)[12]

This article originally posted at[13]. For timely updates, follow John Farrell[14] or Karlee Weinmann[15] on Twitter or get the Energy Democracy weekly[16] update.


  1. Clean Disruption of Energy and Transportation:
  2. Choosing the Electric Avenue — Unlocking Savings, Emissions Reductions, and Community Benefits of Electric Vehicles:
  3. [Image]:
  4. Play in new window:
  5. Download:
  6. Android:
  7. RSS:
  8. reported a year ago:
  9. our new report:
  10. leaned on legislators and regulators:
  11. ultimately struck down:
  12. Windell Oskay via Flickr (CC BY 2.0):
  14. John Farrell:
  15. Karlee Weinmann:
  16. Energy Democracy weekly:

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ILSR Report on “Monopoly Power and the Decline Small Business” Receives Award for Antitrust Scholarship

by Nick Stumo-Langer | June 12, 2017 8:00 am

[1]An article written by ILSR Co-Director Stacy Mitchell[2] has been named “Best Antitrust and Small Business Article” as part of the annual Jerry S. Cohen Award for Antitrust Scholarship[3].

The piece was published by ILSR as Monopoly Power and the Decline of Small Business[4] and also appeared in the academic journal The Antitrust Bulletin under the title “The View from the Shop—Antitrust and the Decline of America’s Independent Businesses[5].”

The Cohen Award was created through a trust established in honor of the late Jerry S. Cohen, a highly regarded trial lawyer and antitrust writer. The 2017 award committee consisted of Zachary Caplan, Warren Grimes, John Kirkwood, Robert Lande, Christopher Leslie, Roger Noll, and Dan Small. Information on other articles recognized by the committee can be found here[6].

Mitchell’s article notes that small, independent businesses have declined sharply in both numbers and market share across many sectors of the economy.  It argues that this decline is owed, at least in part, to anticompetitive behavior by large, dominant corporations.  Drawing on examples in pharmacy, banking, telecommunications, and retail, it finds that big companies routinely use their size and their economic and political power to undermine their smaller rivals and exclude them from markets.

The article presents three reasons to bring a commitment to fair and open markets for small businesses back into antitrust enforcement and public policy, and concludes by outlining several specific steps for doing so.

Read a summary of the report[7].

Download the full report[8].

For updates on ILSR’s independent business and anti-monopoly work, sign-up[9] for our monthly Hometown Advantage Bulletin and follow Stacy[10] and ILSR[11] on Twitter.

  1. [Image]:
  2. Stacy Mitchell:
  3. Jerry S. Cohen Award for Antitrust Scholarship:
  4. Monopoly Power and the Decline of Small Business:
  5. The View from the Shop—Antitrust and the Decline of America’s Independent Businesses:
  6. here:
  7. Read a summary of the report:
  8. Download the full report:
  9. sign-up:
  10. Stacy:
  11. ILSR:

Source URL:

Frederick Compost Summit Brings Together Regulators, Farmers, and Residents

by Linda Bilsens | June 8, 2017 10:33 am

On Monday, May 22nd, 2017, the Frederick Compost Workgroup[1] hosted the Frederick Compost Summit at Fox Haven Educational Farm[2]. ILSR’s Composting for Community project co-sponsored the summit along with Frederick Zero Waste Alliance, Fox Haven Farm, and others.

ILSR staff made opening remarks, presented composting options for the county (including our new hierarchy to reduce food waste & grow community[3]), and helped facilitate breakout sessions. Notable panelists included:

Jan Gardner, Frederick County Executive;
Kaley Laleker, Deputy Director of MD Dept. of the Environment’s Land Programs; and
Cindy Johnson, Director of Recycling for the Frederick County Solid Waste Management Division.

County Executive Jan Gardner identifies 3 key waste reduction options requiring more detailed analysis. Community-scale decentralized composting is one!

Farmers were also well represented on the event’s panels by Jeremy Criss, Manager of the Montgomery County Agricultural Services Division, and Keith Ohlinger, farmer and composter at Heritage Hill Farm in Howard County.

The summit brought together 97 local regulators, farmers, stakeholders and citizens to discuss existing challenges, such as zoning and unclear county regulations, which hamper the ability of the county’s large number of farmers to compost. The summit provided valuable information-sharing and an opportunity for county residents to ask questions of local regulators, while also fostering new collaborations, and identifying concrete next steps and volunteers willing to help carry them out. ILSR looks forward to continuing to support the Frederick Compost Workgroup’s advocacy as both advisers and friends.

ILSR’s Linda Bilsens kicks off the Summit with her remarks highlighting the connection between compost and healthy soil.


The Neighborhood Soil Rebuilders Connection

Two graduates of our 2015 Neighborhood Soil Rebuilders (NSR) training course[4], Lacey Walker and Phil Wescott, show the power of a train-the-trainer program to spread enthusiasm for composting. After completing the course, they took their knowledge back to Frederick County, and organized the Frederick Composting Workgroup to engage both local government and the community. In part due to this workgroup’s advocacy, the county has now identified source separated organics collection and decentralized community-scale composting as 2 of 3 priority waste management options requiring more detailed analysis. This plan could involve as many as 15 different smaller scale (10,000 yards per year produced) sites. The hope is that many would be located on farms. Because of farmers’ intimate knowledge of soil, they are perhaps the most appropriate stewards of the composting process.  

ILSR’s Brenda Platt emphasized the need for a distributed and diverse infrastructure, with scale and local being important considerations.

In addition to becoming a local compost expert and advocate, Phil started Key City Compost, becoming the first service provider in the county to offer curbside collection of food scraps for composting which are then composted at a local farm. At the summit, Phil shared his hopes for Key City Compost’s future expansion. We are hopeful that the interactions at the summit will help to facilitate the path forward for Key City Compost, as well as other local composting entrepreneurs.  

“I would love to see Frederick County formally allow the on-farm composting of organics that mimics the state’s 5,000-square-foot exemption. That would make it a lot easier for someone like myself to graduate into a larger program.” NSR grad Phil Westcott advocated during the Frederick Compost Summit.

ILSR and Fox Haven Learning Center are currently fundraising to host an NSR training to build leadership capacity for rural composting. Part of the plan is to develop an on-farm composting demonstration and education site, that can spawn other on-farm initiatives. Fox Haven is an education center, ecological retreat, organic farm and wildlife sanctuary. The 700+ acre property is primarily dedicated to reforesting and rewilding the lands that support the Catoctin and Potomac Watershed. As an education center, they welcome rural farmers, homesteaders, school groups, citizens, and others to reconnect with the land and learn about the importance of maintaining soil and water health. Fox Haven is a member of the Farm Bureau as well as the Jefferson Ruritan. Their proximity to Frederick gives Jefferson a mix of multi-generation farmers and Jefferson business owners as well as relative newcomers to the rural setting who are departing from nearby cities.


After completing the NSR course, Phil started Key City Compost. His company has been written up in the Frederick News Post. (Photo credit: Frederick News Post, Bill Green)

Follow the Institute for Local Self-Reliance on Twitter[5] and Facebook[6] and, for monthly updates on our work, sign-up[7] for our ILSR general newsletter.

  1. Frederick Compost Workgroup:
  2. Fox Haven Educational Farm:
  3. new hierarchy to reduce food waste & grow community:
  4. Neighborhood Soil Rebuilders (NSR) training course:
  5. Twitter:
  6. Facebook:
  7. sign-up:

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Report: Choosing the Electric Avenue – Unlocking Savings, Emissions Reductions, and Community Benefits of Electric Vehicles

by John Farrell | June 7, 2017 1:00 pm

Browse the Report

Executive Summary
Electric VehIcles Going Mainstream
Impact: Improving the Grid
Impact: Cutting Pollution
Impact: Readying Energy Democracy
Rules to Maximize the Electric Vehicle Opportunity
Appendix A – The Vehicle-to-Grid Future
Appendix B – Electric Bus Savings
Appendix C – Driving Electric Savings


Key Links:

Download: Executive Summary

Download: Full Report

View: video and slides[2] from the webinar

Listen: a series of paired podcast episodes about electric vehicles…




Executive Summary

The U.S. vehicle market will undergo a massive technology disruption from electric vehicles in the coming decades. Many analysts see the potential for surging sales of these efficient vehicles to enable smart grid management, but few have explored the local impact of electric vehicles: promoting energy democracy. Electric vehicles offer a natural use for solar energy, a pathway to pump more local solar power onto the grid, and a source of resilient power when the grid goes down. Ultimately, electric vehicles are another tool to miniaturize the electricity system, providing unprecedented local control.

The imminent transformation requires immediate attention to policy and planning. Electric utilities typically produce 15-year or longer “resource plans” to map out additions of new power plants and power lines that will last for decades. But electric vehicles may have an impact much sooner than the 40-year lifetime of these traditional resources, or even the 15-year timeframe of resources plans. The rising numbers of electric cars on U.S. roads may impact utility plans well within their current planning horizon. The time for action is now. (more…)[6]

  1. [Image]:
  2. video and slides:
  3. [Image]:
  4. [Image]:
  5. [Image]:
  6. (more…):

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Addressing UPenn Report on Municipal Broadband: Dud Data, Unsuitable Approach

by Lisa Gonzalez | June 1, 2017 10:49 am

For the second week in row, our staff has felt compelled to address a misleading report about municipal networks. In order to correct the errors and incorrect assumptions in yet another anti-muni publication, we’ve worked with Next Century Cities[1] to publish Correcting Community Fiber Fallacies: Yoo Discredits U Penn, Not Municipal Networks[2].

Skewed Data = Skewed Results

Professor Christopher S. Yoo and Timothy Pfenninger from the Center for Technology, Innovation and Competition (CTIC) at the University of Pennsylvania Law School recently released “Municipal Fiber in the United States: An Empirical Assessment of Financial Performance[3].” The report attempts to analyze the financial future of several citywide Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) municipal networks in the U.S. by applying a Net Present Value (NPV) calculation approach. They applied their method to some well-known networks, including Chattanooga’s EPB Fiber Optics[4]; Greenlight[5] in Wilson, North Carolina; and Lafayette, Louisiana’s LUS Fiber[6]. Unfortunately, their initial data was flawed and incomplete, which yielded a report fraught with credibility issues.

So Many Problems

In addition to compromising data validity, the authors of the study didn’t consider the wider context of municipal networks, which goes beyond the purpose of NPV, which is determining the promise of a financial investment.

Some of the more expansive problems with this report (from our Executive Summary):

Proceed With Caution

Communities that invest in fiber Internet infrastructure do so to improve economic development[8], expand educational opportunities, and attract entrepreneurs. They want to save public dollars[9], keep young people from moving away to find work, or enhance healthcare for residents. Unfortunately, Yoo and Pfenninger disregarded the first rule of Muni Research 101 – each community is unique. By abandoning the basic rule, the authors have generated another anti-muni piece of literature thinly disguised as an academic publication.

As with every piece of information that community leaders use to help them decide how to move forward, we encourage decision-makers who choose to review this report to do so with an intensely critical eye.

Download the full report[10].

For More…

For more on this report, listen to Christopher and Lisa discuss the approach in Episode 21 of the Building Local Power podcast[11]. The discussion begins right around 17:00 into the podcast. We tackle the UPenn piece and touch on another report from the Taxpayers Protection Alliance that needed a response[12].

This article was originally published on ILSR’s[13]. Read the original here[14].

  1. Next Century Cities:
  2. Correcting Community Fiber Fallacies: Yoo Discredits U Penn, Not Municipal Networks:
  3. Municipal Fiber in the United States: An Empirical Assessment of Financial Performance:
  4. EPB Fiber Optics:
  5. Greenlight:
  6. LUS Fiber:
  7. in a press release:
  8. economic development:
  9. save public dollars:
  10. Download the full report:
  11. Episode 21 of the Building Local Power podcast:
  12. that needed a response:
  14. here:

Source URL:

Rural Telephone Cooperative Forges Its Own Path In Michigan

by Hannah Trostle | May 29, 2017 7:39 am

Can’t get telephone or Internet service? Have you tried starting your own company? In 1998, John Reigle did just that with the support of the community and Michigan State University. Today, Allband Communications Cooperative provides not only telephone service, but also cutting-edge, high-quality Internet access and environmental research opportunities in rural Northeastern Michigan.

A Story Of Promise, Betrayal, And The Telephone Company

We connected with Allband representatives who shared details about Allband’s interesting and dramatic history[1] as told by Masha Zager back in 2005. They kindly provided updates and let us know what’s in store for this by-the-bootstraps effort that started in the woods of Michigan.

When John Reigle moved out into the woods past the small town of Curran, Michigan, he didn’t intend to start a brand-new venture. He simply wanted to build a home and work on his consulting business; he just needed telephone service.

The large incumbent telephone company GTE (which later became Verizon, which still later sold off this service area to Frontier) had assured Reigle that the lot where he planned to build his house would be easy to connect to their telephone network. They quoted him a price of about $34 and scheduled an install date. Trusting that the telephone company’s representatives knew the service area, Reigle moved forward with his plans to build.

After he finished constructing his house in 1998, Reigle contacted the telephone company to finalize his service connection. Despite the earlier assurance that his location would not prove a problem, Reigle found that he was miles away from the GTE network. This time, the company quoted $27,000 to run a copper telephone line from the highway to his new house.

His consulting firm could not operate without a telephone so he decided to bite the bullet and agree to the steep price. GTE rescinded its quote, however, and no matter how much Reigle offered, the company would not run telephone service to his new house.

Obviously perturbed, Reigle filed a complaint with the Michigan Public Service Commission only to discover that he had built his house in an unassigned area. Despite the previous promises from GTE, the Michigan Public Service Commission noted that legally GTE could not be forced to provide service in that area.

That is when the Michigan Public Service Commission told Reigle:

“If you want telephone service, start your own phone company.”

Creation Of The Cooperative

allband_header.pngProfessor Ron Choura from Michigan State University’s Telecommunications program worked at the Michigan Public Service Commission at the time. He connected with Reigle, and the two hatched a plan to create a brand new telephone company. Commuting hours each way, Reigle took classes from Professor Choura in order to implement the idea. By late 2003, they had put together a business plan for a nonprofit telephone company and incorporated it with the state.

Reigle and Choura did what no one had done in more than 20 years: they created a brand new Incumbent Local Exchange Carrier (ILEC). Telephone companies are either ILECs or Competitive Local Exchange Carriers (CLECs). A key difference between the two is that ILECs may receive funding from the federal Universal Service Fund, which is distributed to subsidize connectivity in rural communities.

When the federal government created the system to regulate telephone companies in the 1980s, they assumed that all ILECs would be created at one time: the entire U.S. was carved up into non-overlapping areas for the telephone companies. Any telephone company created after that would have to compete with the incumbents.

Up to now, the federal government only had a process for approving new competitive telephone carriers; creating a new incumbent was an entirely new procedure. The Federal Government required Choura and Reigle to obtain many waivers in order to qualify as an ILEC and receive Universal Service Funds.

Allband Communications was not only going to be a new ILEC, also a new utility cooperative, which put it under the purview of the United States Department of Agriculture. As a cooperative, Allband Communications could receive funding from the United States Department of Agriculture. Most utility cooperatives were created during the 1930s for electricity and during the 1950s for telephone service.

An increasing number of telephone and electric cooperatives are providing high-speed, Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) service throughout the U.S., but have the benefit of decades of experience in providing utility services to their local community. Without that past experience and community trust, Allband Communications’ venture seemed a bit more risky, but the cooperative had community support from folks who wanted reliable 911 service.

Cooperative Funding And Paperwork

logo-fcc-2012.PNGAllband Communications received some seed money from a LinkMichigan grant of about $212,000. The grants were awarded in the early 2000s[2] to help spur telecommunications planning and deployment. In August 2004, the cooperative also submitted a loan application to the USDA Rural Development office. While they waited for that application, they began to build an all fiber network with $6.24 million in RUS funding. At that point, the cooperative was still waiting on several waivers from the FCC in order to receive its ILEC status.

Finally, the FCC approved several of the waivers in 2005, and the USDA Rural Development Program officially awarded about $8 million to the cooperative to start its project. It didn’t take long for Allband to build out its network, which began providing service to its first cooperative member in November 2006.

Within a month, the FCC approved the remaining waivers to make Allband an official ILEC. Allband was then able to join the National Exchange Carrier Association, saving money on administrative expenses, keeping costs down, and start receiving Universal Service Funds.

In August 2010, the co-op received an American Reinvestment and Recovery Act (ARRA) grant of $9.7 million to build out their network further into underserved areas. Check out their service area map[3] which covers and area of around 3,600 people.

Looking Forward

Allband Communications Cooperative continues to focus on the current needs of the community. The cooperative’s latest projects include expanding the fiber network, improving small business efficiency, and increasing home safety.

The network expansion extends into the new “Allband Multimedia area,” which is outside of Allband Communications original cooperative area. In order to encourage digital inclusion, Allband is offering credit for construction of the network. Those within the cooperative’s footprint who have not yet connected are eligible for a $1,000 credit to put towards extending the cable to their house. Those in the “Allband Multimedia area” can get a $500 credit. The goal is to make the expansion of the network affordable for the community.

Allband Communications is not just expanding their network into new areas, but also into the office sector. The co-op launched Unifi, a way to seamlessly connect office devices, enabling telephone calls to be taken on cellphones, laptops, or tablets. The Unifi program also includes features like screen-sharing and video conferencing.

At the same time, Allband Communications has launched LifeWatch, a live-feed video monitoring system that can be used for everything from home security to caring for elderly relatives. logo-lifewatch.pngThey’ve set up the LifeWatch system on their website, which features a feed of local wildlife from the Allband facility backyard.

Giving Back To The Community

The goal of Allband Communications has always been to improve the community by providing much needed connectivity to their neighbors. The service territory is in an economically distressed and historically underserved area of northeastern Michigan. Allband brought reliable 911 service to the community in addition to telephone and fast, affordable, reliable Internet access. Stand alone residential Internet access is available at 100 Mbps download and 50 Mbps upload for $59.99 per month. There are not data caps and subscribers can also bundle with voice services.

The cooperative not only provides home Internet service, but also connects community anchor institutions, such as government facilities, libraries, or schools for free or reduced rates. Allband Communications is providing much needed connectivity to local churches: Beaver Lake Community Church, Calvary Baptist Church, and Spratt United Methodist Church. Allband is donating connections of 100 Mbps to the churches.

Allband communications has also started a nonprofit called Allband Communications Education, Wildlife, & Research Opportunities (ACEWR) that provides educational opportunities, workforce development, and wildlife research. ACEWR allows the cooperative to collaborate with universities and research institutions across the United States. The nonprofit also has an online workforce development program to train locals in new skills, empowering them to succeed in the 21st century economy. ACEWR’s location in the Michigan woods also makes it a prime spot for research on local wildlife, endangered species, and conservation projects.

Looking forward, Allband Communications hopes to partner with local governments in forming public-private partnerships. Working together with the support of the community is key to a project’s success. This quote from the cooperative’s history page best summarizes their role:

“Allband and its mission is proof that collaborative efforts between community driven rural telecommunication providers and government can correct the digital divide that traditional providers with traditional business models cause and fail to correct.”

Picture of Carnberry Lake in Curran, Michigan, courtesy of[4].

This article was originally published on ILSR’s[5]. Read the original here[6].

  1. interesting and dramatic history:,%20Masha%20Zager.pdf
  2. awarded in the early 2000s:
  3. service area map:
  6. here:

Source URL:

Report: Correcting Community Fiber Fallacies

by Lisa Gonzalez | May 24, 2017 10:15 am

Usually, we ignore the misinformation released by the Taxpayers Protection Alliance (TPA) but their latest efforts are so shady, we felt it was our responsibility to shine a light on its lack of validity and the organization’s credibility. Our report, Correcting Community Fiber Fallacies: Taxpayers Protection Alliance Edition[1], takes a deeper look at the TAP’s most recent attempt, which is filled with errors and a blatant disregard for the truth.

What Is A “Boondoggle” Anyway? This Map!

When we looked deeper, we discovered that TPA’s “Broadband Boondoggles: A Map of Failed Taxpayer-Funded Networks[2]” is more misinformation than map.

All of the basic errors in the map display a lack of attention to detail; our short report examines the deceitful characteristics of this resource. Our purpose in publishing this report is to caution community leaders and citizens who are investigating publicly owned infrastructure; the TPA is not a credible source.


One of the more obvious errors: Sandy, Oregon, appears in Utah.

The map is also visually deceiving because it includes 213 communities, but only provides information for 87. Of the 213 on the map, the TPA only label 14 as “failures,” which means less than 10 percent of the networks they document fit their own definition of “failure.”

Clearly, TPA has proven that it seeks to spread any and all information it can find to discredit municipal networks, regardless of accuracy. Communities, public officials, or staff that research the option of publicly owned networks should review our report if they have ever considered the data in the Boondoggles Map.

Consider the Source

If your community is seeking better connectivity, thorough research will be the foundation of how you proceed. As part of your research, be sure to review the organizations that offer information.

From our report:

This brief report does not claim all municipal networks are successes. Municipal networks are challenging in the best of circumstances and local governments must perform due diligence before making decisions in this area. However, we have seen networks that are unqualified successes attacked as being failures by groups that, like TPA, are more focused on delegitimizing the idea of government than determining the best policy for building community wealth.


Download the full report[4].

Check out our other “[5]Correcting Community Fiber Fallacies” report on LUS Fiber[6].

This article was originally published on ILSR’s[7]. Read the original here[8].

  1. Correcting Community Fiber Fallacies: Taxpayers Protection Alliance Edition:
  2. Broadband Boondoggles: A Map of Failed Taxpayer-Funded Networks:
  3. [Image]:
  4. Download the full report:
  5. “:
  6. Correcting Community Fiber Fallacies” report on LUS Fiber:
  8. here:

Source URL:

New York City Works With Grassroots for Low-Income Access – Community Broadband Bits Podcast 254

by Christopher | May 20, 2017 10:06 am

This is episode 254 of our Community Broadband Bits podcast! Community Broadband Bits[1] is a short weekly audio show featuring interviews with people building community networks or otherwise involved with Internet policy.

Some time ago, when speaking with Joshua Breitbart, the Senior Advisor for Broadband to the New York City CTO Miguel Gamiño, he mentioned to me that any subset of the issues they face with regard to improving Internet access in New York City is itself a massive issue. Joshua joins us to elaborate on that challenge and an exciting project that points to the way to solving some of their problems on episode 254 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast.

We talk about Queensbridge Connected[2], a partnership to ensure people living in low-income housing have access to broadband Internet connections. We also discuss how their responsibility does not end merely with making Wi-Fi available, but actually helping people be prepared to use the connection safely[3].

Joshua offers an important perspective on the challenges in large urban areas to make sure policy is fully responsive to local needs by ensuring residents are a part of the process and solution.

Read the transcript of the show here[5].

We want your feedback and suggestions for the show-please e-mail us[6] or leave a comment below.

This show is 21 minutes long and can be played on this page or via iTunes[7] or the tool of your choice using this feed[8].

You can download this mp3 file directly from here[9]. Listen to other episodes here[10] or view all episodes in our index[11].

Thanks to Arne Huseby for the music. The song is Warm Duck Shuffle[12] and is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution (3.0) license.

This article was originally published on ILSR’s[13]. Read the original here[14].

  1. Community Broadband Bits:
  2. Queensbridge Connected:
  3. helping people be prepared to use the connection safely:
  5. Read the transcript of the show here:
  6. e-mail us:
  7. via iTunes:
  8. using this feed:
  9. download this mp3 file directly from here:
  10. other episodes here:
  11. view all episodes in our index:
  12. Warm Duck Shuffle:
  14. here:

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Infographic: The Threat of Super-Preemption to US Cities

by Lisa Gonzalez | May 11, 2017 8:07 am

Preemption at the state and federal level threatens local telecommunications authority[1], as we’ve seen in about 20 states[2]. When state laws usurp local governments’ ability to decide how they improve poor connectivity, they disregard an understanding of local affairs that is unique to each community. Some states are threatening to take preemption another damaging step farther with super-preemption.

Super-Preemption: “Super” In A Bad Way

The Campaign to Defend Local Solutions describes the problem like this:

State legislatures across the country have gone beyond preventing local governments from passing common-sense local solutions. They’ve begun silencing local voices using draconian super-preemption laws.  These laws allow special interest groups to sue local governments and in some cases personally sue local officials for doing their job. These laws are designed to intimidate, bully, and chill government at the local level. This infographic highlights where these laws exist, where they have been recently proposed, and what their impacts could be to cities, counties, local officials, and taxpayers alike.

Mayor Andrew Gillum from Tallahassee, Florida, recently spoke with Community Broadband Networks initiative director Christopher Mitchell and our Communications Manager Nick Stumo-Langer about super-preemption for episode 17 of the Building Local Power podcast[3]. He noted that local governments need flexibility to meet the demands of local constituents:

“There’s a nimbleness to local governments that I think people have an appreciation for. The legislature [is trying to] exclude us from being able to make any investments in that space for the greater good.”

In order to spread the word about super-preemption, the Campaign to Defend Local Solutions[4] created an infographic to help educate lawmakers, constituents, and communities about the issue. The resource describes how super-preemption influences policy makers, giving lobbyists and their corporate or special interest clients’ power. The infographic also shows where super-preemption laws are in place or are proposed. Lastly, the infographic suggests how citizens can get involved and express their concern for preserving local authority.


Check out a larger version of the infographic here[5].

There are more resources at the Defend Local Solutions website[6], including a list of partners, how to get involved, and more resources on local matters.

This article was originally published on ILSR’s[7]. Read the original here[8].

  1. threatens local telecommunications authority:
  2. about 20 states:
  3. episode 17 of the Building Local Power podcast:
  4. Campaign to Defend Local Solutions:
  5. larger version of the infographic here:
  6. Defend Local Solutions website:
  8. here:

Source URL:

Watch: How Cities Can Create a Built Environment Where Local Businesses Thrive

by Olivia LaVecchia | May 9, 2017 12:21 pm

Cities are changing to become increasingly inhospitable to locally owned businesses. As older buildings get replaced by new development, commercial real estate prices soar, and national chains seek new markets, independent businesses are struggling to find space that’s appropriate and affordable for their needs. The result is that longtime businesses are getting priced out of the neighborhoods they’ve been serving for years, and entrepreneurs are facing higher barriers to starting new businesses. When this happens, local business owners lose, but so do cities and the people who live in them.

ILSR’s Olivia LaVecchia recently joined with policymakers and advocates at Hopeful Economics[1], a summit co-hosted by the City of Vancouver and Simon Fraser University, to explore this issue. In this 20-minute talk, Olivia discusses what’s causing the problem, why it matters — and six policy strategies that cities are using to address it.


  1. Hopeful Economics:
  2. (more…):

Source URL:

Press Release: Maryland Governor Hogan Signs ILSR-led Bipartisan Bills to Advance Composting

by Nick Stumo-Langer | May 5, 2017 1:19 pm

Maryland to Explore a Decentralized Composting Infrastructure

Governor Hogan Signs Two Bills – HB171/SB99 & HB1349 – to Advance Food Waste Recovery and Ensure Compostable Plastics Meet Standards

Nick Stumo-Langer

ANNAPOLIS, MD – On Thursday, May 4th, Maryland Governor Larry Hogan signed two bills to advance composting in Maryland. One will bolster recovery of food waste and other organic materials by expanding infrastructure in the state. The other will reduce contamination at compost sites by preventing the false labeling of plastics as compostable or biodegradable. In signing the bills, which were among dozens of environmental bills passed by the Maryland legislature in 2017, Governor Hogan thanked the state’s elected officials for the real bipartisan effort in passing laws to “protect our soil, our air, and our water… and grow the investment in jobs in our state.”

HB171[3]/SB99[4], the “Yard Waste and Food Residuals Diversion and Infrastructure Act,” requires the Maryland Department of the Environment to study and report on existing compost manufacturing infrastructure in Maryland, as well as laws in other states that divert food scraps and organics, and to then recommend how to improve infrastructure and funding opportunities to expand composting in the Maryland. The bill requires the Department to consult with the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, along with a number of ILSR’s allies including the MD-DC Compost Council, the American Biogas Council, the Maryland Horse Council, the Chesapeake Foodshed Network, the Chesapeake Alliance for Sustainable Agriculture, and the Chesapeake Sustainable Business Council.

HB1349[5], “Compostable, Degradable, and Biodegradable Plastic Products – Labeling,” requires products being sold in the state labelled as compostable to meet well-established standards. HB1349 was signaled out as one of 12 key environmental bills signed by the Governor at the Annapolis City Dock.

The passage of the bills were thanks in large part to the efforts of Delegate Shane Robinson[6], who sponsored both bills on the House side; Senator Thomas Middleton[7], sponsor of Senate Bill 99; and Brenda Platt, co-director of the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, who led the coalition in crafting the bills.

“With the passage of these bills, Maryland can begin exploring different ways to encourage composting in our state,” says bill sponsor Del. Shane Robinson. “The study group created by this legislation, comprised of state agencies, non-profit organizations, and private entities, will make Maryland more competitive in the field of renewable resources, while decreasing the waste we put into our landfills, and the labelling bill will ensure that composting facilities have clean materials to create their compost with.”

“Composting sustains 4 times more jobs on a per-ton basis than landfilling or burning trash,” says Brenda Platt, the chief architect of both bills. “These bills will help Maryland grow composting and food waste recovery in a way that supports farmers and new businesses and creates jobs.” Thanks to her advocacy, HB171/SB99 specifically calls for the Department to investigate ways to encourage a decentralized and diverse infrastructure, and to prevent generation of organic waste.

“We congratulate Maryland on leading the way towards a more sustainable future. Kudos to the Institute for Local Self-Reliance for helping push the state towards greater organics recycling and healthier soils,” said Frank Franciosi, executive director of the US Composting Council.

The President of the Maryland Horse Council, Jane Seigler, said, “We believe that organic waste generated by farming in general and by horse farming in particular can and should be an important component of composting programs that divert this resource to beneficial reuse.”

According to Justen Garrity, owner of Veteran Compost, “HB1349 would reduce the burden on our company to deal with non-compostable wastes and allow us to use that money to grow our business in Maryland.”

Referring to HB1349, Rhodes Yepsen, the Executive Director of the Biodegradable Products Institute, stated, “This new labeling requirement will significantly reduce ‘greenwashing,’ where false and unsubstantiated claims negatively impact both consumers and the environment, and thereby build trust in truly compostable products and packaging for diverting food scraps from households and businesses in Maryland.”

HB171/SB99 passed by votes of 46-0 in the MD Senate and 134-2 in the MD House, and HB1349 passed by 120-8 in the MD House and 33-14 in the MD Senate.


Brenda Platt, the Institute for Local Self-Reliance’s expert in composting-based economic development and a key architect of the laws from their origins, can explain this issue to your audience and give vital context for the growth of composting, waste issues, and economic development. Contact Nick Stumo-Langer to set up an interview at 612-844-1330[1] or at[2].

About ILSR: The Institute for Local Self-Reliance[8] (ILSR) is a public interest organization, focused on helping communities see the economic benefits of community composting and rethinking the waste system; Brenda Platt is a national expert on the policies and economics surrounding community composting and the technical implementation of such programs.


Other Resources:

  1. 612-844-1330: tel:(612)%20844-1330
  3. HB171:
  4. SB99:
  5. HB1349:
  6. Delegate Shane Robinson:
  7. Senator Thomas Middleton:
  8. Institute for Local Self-Reliance:
  9. Waste Dive’s analysis:
  11. Infographic: Compost Impacts More Than You Think:
  12. here:
  13. Hierarchy to Reduce Food Waste and Grow Community:
  14. Neighborhood Soil Rebuilders Training Program:
  15. Pay Dirt: Composting in Maryland to Reduce Waste, Create Jobs, & Protect the Bay:

Source URL:

Would You Pay 5% More for Local Energy?

by John Farrell | May 4, 2017 1:56 pm

In recent months, a raft of cities and states pushed up their renewable energy targets to 50%, 80%, or even 100%. But how will that energy be delivered? Will it be from the top down, by merchant wind and solar power plants? Or from the bottom up, by customers producing their own power?

The answer likely lies somewhere in between, but some studies of a low-carbon future rely too heavily on incumbent powers and utility-scale development for the energy of the future. A January 2016 study[1] commissioned by the central U.S. grid operator — the Midwest Independent System Operator (MISO) — does yeoman’s work examining how to  achieve a low-carbon energy mix across the region, but leaves many questions unanswered.

First, the Unfiltered Results

The MISO study suggests that achieving an 80% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 (from a 2005 baseline) is possible without increasing the cost of wholesale energy on the system. The 2050 Midwest grid would have zero coal plants, around 50 gigawatts of new gas power plants, and nearly 200 gigawatts of new wind and solar power. The following chart shows the projected installed capacity of each resource at a few benchmark years between now and 2050.


The low-carbon future examined in this study would require a massive transmission line expansion, with over 45 gigawatts of transmission capacity in MISO’s northernmost resource zone alone (primarily Montana, the Dakotas, and Minnesota). The chart below, from the study, illustrates.


Although it doesn’t dive into details, the study suggests this scenario carries the lowest cost region-wide, and that achieving similar carbon reductions in a constrained transmission scenario (presumably without the substantial expansion pictured above) would cost about 5% more per year.

Only 5%?

Ignoring for the moment the many factors aside from the transmission system that could alter this analysis in a way that reduces transmission needs — from distributed solar to storage to electric vehicles — let’s ask this question: would a state legislator or governor be willing to pay 5% more to increase in-state renewable energy generation rather than importing the electricity? Would a ratepayer?

Typical economic impact estimates suggest wind projects create $1 million in economic activity per megawatt, while solar projects spur $2.5 million per megawatt. Both create numerous construction jobs.

Most studies of our grid system focus on the grid costs and benefits alone, leaving out economic benefits that tend to matter more to the affected communities.

The Many Things Ignored

Though the MISO study may offer an opening for more local renewable energy generation at a premium to transmission, it likely overstates the cost of achieving 80% carbon reduction by focusing too narrowly on the transmission system. It also includes other questionable assumptions. A few examples follow.

Stagnant Electricity Demand

The study assumes electricity consumption will rise by a constant 0.8% over the study period, despite stagnant electricity sales[5] nationally over the past decade. If the trend of zero growth continues, this study overestimates total electricity sales (and therefore power generation needs) by 42%.


Electric Vehicle Adoption

A countervailing issue is electric vehicle adoption, which by increasing electricity demand and sales may help correct for this odd projection of growth. On the other hand, electric vehicles offer a source of managed demand that can absorb excess electricity supply, in turn reducing the need for long-distance transmission. Bloomberg forecasts[7] ongoing cost reductions that will translate to a substantial portion of the U.S. vehicle fleet going electric by 2050. Grid models run without acknowledging this assumption are dangerously suspect.


No Local Solar?

Distributed solar adoption is also ignored in the MISO study, presenting a major problem for modeling hourly system load matching. In California, for example, daytime solar production (largely from utility-scale solar, but also including distributed solar) is substantially changing the daily load curve.


No Energy Storage?

Finally, the MISO evaluation ignores the potential for energy storage. At 2016 prices, it’s no surprise that transmission offers a much more cost-effective tool for managing variable power supply and demand. But battery cost and energy density are improving rapidly[10], and to assume they will not have an impact in the 34-year study period makes the transmission-only analysis almost meaningless.


Narrow Studies Provide Poor Context

There’s a reason that in regulated utility markets, Public Utilities Commissions require utilities to conduct an alternatives analysis to determine the “least cost” method of meeting grid needs (unless the utility uses its lobbyists to avoid it[12]). These assessments are intended to reduce the likelihood that electric customers overpay for electricity.

The MISO study provides an interesting slice of data, suggesting that it’s cost-effective to decarbonize the regional power grid. Its most useful lesson may be that managing demand within MISO’s zones is only incrementally more expensive than a massive transmission expansion, offering state policy makers viable options for focusing on local generation rather than long-distance imports.

Due to its omissions, however, the MISO study is totally insufficient for assessing the least cost method of decarbonizing the regional electricity system. Too many changes are bubbling up from the local distribution grid, and substantial technological innovation is likely to fundamentally alter the economics.

Photo Credit: Michael VH via Flickr[13] (CC 2.0[14])

This article originally posted at[15]. For timely updates, follow John Farrell[16] or Karlee Weinmann[17] on Twitter or get the Energy Democracy weekly[18] update.

  1. January 2016 study:
  2. [Image]:
  3. [Image]:
  4. [Image]:
  5. stagnant electricity sales:,1&geo=g&endsec=vg&linechart=ELEC.SALES.US-ALL.A~~~&columnchart=ELEC.SALES.US-ALL.A~ELEC.SALES.US-RES.A~ELEC.SALES.US-COM.A~ELEC.SALES.US-IND.A&map=ELEC.SALES.US-ALL.A&freq=A&start=2001&end=2016&ctype=linechart&ltype=pin&rtype=s&pin=&rse=0&maptype=0
  6. [Image]:
  7. Bloomberg forecasts:
  8. [Image]:
  9. [Image]:
  10. battery cost and energy density are improving rapidly:
  11. [Image]:
  12. uses its lobbyists to avoid it:
  13. Michael VH via Flickr:
  14. CC 2.0:
  16. John Farrell:
  17. Karlee Weinmann:
  18. Energy Democracy weekly:

Source URL:

Creating Community Wealth Through Compost – Episode 19 of the Building Local Power Podcast

by Nick Stumo-Langer | May 4, 2017 12:00 pm

In Building Local Power[1] this week, we’re delving into the potential community-based composting holds to empower historically marginalized communities in cities across the United States. Host Christopher Mitchell[2] and ILSR’s Project Manager for the Composting for Community initiative, Linda Bilsens[3], sit down with composters Sophia Hosain and Guy Schaffer to discuss how their composting projects are both engaging and serving their communities. Also, be sure to check back all next week for our celebration of International Compost Awareness Week[4] from May 7th-13th.

Sophia Hosain works with ILSR partner Civic Works’ Real Food Farm[5] and Guy Schaffer volunteers for the youth‐powered, bike‐based composting service, BK ROT[6].

Linda, Sophia, and Guy are all part of the larger community composting movement that is growing throughout the United States. This movement is made up of composters working in diverse communities—ranging from urban, suburban, and rural—with common goals such as revitalizing degraded soils, diverting organic materials from the waste stream, and building community wealth in underserved, food insecure areas. Read more about this movement and how ILSR and other partners convened the Cultivating Community Composting Forum[7] in Los Angeles earlier this year.

Full transcript is available here[8].

“That wealth that we’re creating from food waste and food scraps needs to be recycled within our communities in order to truly make a wealthy and healthy community. And a sustainable one at that,” says Sophia Hosain of the benefits of community composting in communities across the United States.

Sophia Hosain works with ILSR partner Civic Works’ Real Food Farm[5], which serves communities in and around the Clifton Park neighborhood of northeast Baltimore. Sophia is a graduate of the Neighborhood Soil Rebuilders Master Composter[9] program that Real Food Farm and the Institute for Local Self-Reliance partnered to bring to Baltimore last fall. She now manages the farm’s composting cooperative, which serves as a critical engagement touchpoint with the farm’s community, and allows the farm to act as a local composting demonstration and education site for Baltimore.

Guy Schaffer volunteers for the youth‐powered, bike‐based composting service, BK ROT[6], in the Bushwick neighborhood of Brooklyn. BK ROT, started by Sandy Nurse and Renee Pepperone in 2013, brings youth of color into the developing green economy around organics recycling in New York City. Guy recently finished a dissertation on compost in New York City, examining the relationship between municipal organics collection and more informal projects such as BK ROT. In his dissertation, he argues for the value of community‐based projects for pushing alternative possibilities for composting in the NYC.


Get caught up with the latest work from the Institute for Local Self-Reliance on composting based economic development by exploring our resources, below:

Hierarchy to Reduce Food Waste & Grow Community[15]

Composting Cultivates Economic Development – Episode 7 of the Building Local Power Podcast[16]

Bike-Powered Food Scrap Collection[17]

Community Composters Gather at Conference in Los Angeles[18]

NSR Master Composter Course in Baltimore[19]

View the full transcript of the podcast, below.If you missed our previous episodes make sure to bookmark our Building Local Power [20]Podcast Homepage[21]. Please give us a review and rating on iTunes or wherever you subscribe to podcasts.

Full Transcript of Podcast:

Christopher Mitchell: Hey Linda, I hear you have stat, it’s not really great news but we have good news that will be attached to it. What is that specific?
Linda Bilsens: More than 40 million people in the US are considered to be food insecure, which is why composting is such a useful tool because it closes the food loop and helps communities grow more healthy food.
Christopher Mitchell: That’s Linda, Linda Bilsens, our project manager of composting for community at the Institute for Local Self-Reliance here on the Building Local Power Podcast one more time. I’m Chris Mitchell. I’ve been here for most of the episodes I guess, I work on a lot of our broadband work but I also really enjoy yelling into a microphone. So, I’m back and Linda is going to introduce our guests who both come from very interesting locations, two urban areas that are doing really great work with composting. So Linda, why don’t you take it away.
Linda Bilsens: Thanks Chris. It is my great pleasure to introduce our two speakers for today, Sophia Hosain of Real Food Farm in Baltimore, in the Clifton Park neighborhood, she’ll be talking about the role that her farm plays in addressing food access issues and the role that composting plays in that. Also joining us is Guy Schaffer who works as a volunteer for the youth powered bike faced composting service, BK ROT, in the Bushwick neighborhood of Brooklyn. BK ROT was started by Sandy Nurse and Renee Peperone in 2013, brings use of color into the green economy that’s developing around organics recycling in New York City. Guy recently finished a dissertation on compost in New York City in which he argues that the value of community based projects for pushing alternative possibilities for the composting in the city.
Christopher Mitchell: Welcome to the show both Sophia and Guy. As I was just thinking about this I was reminded of stories about ILS Founding, The Institute for Local Self Reliance, in the mid 70s when our founders got together. They had this idea that one could be self reliant inside cities whereas a lot of the thought at the time for people who were thinking about self reliance and how to be less dependent on big companies or federal government programs. A lot of them though you had to live way out in farm countryside and so I think it’s really great to talk about these programs and get a better sense of how we can be more independent and how our communities can solve their own problems locally. So I’m really excited, I’ll probably do more listening than usual, something I should learn in general so Linda if you want to start the conversation I’d really appreciate it.
Linda Bilsens: Sophia and Guy I was hoping that you could start by setting the scene for our listeners about your communities, where do you live, where do each of you live and work and what is some of the challenges that the members of your community might be facing, what forces are at work and what opportunities do you see that exist, or maybe don’t exist in your communities. Sophia, do you want to start?
Sophia Hosain: Surely, yes. Baltimore is a really interesting place in that it has a unique., kind of socio-political unstable environment. The city is home to thousands and thousands of vacant homes which is really interesting and also has a lot of food deserts. So some of the challenges that we face look like, non-inclusive development, obviously I mentioned the food deserts and it’s still very affordable city. We do actually have quite a bit of opportunity to turn a lot of these vacant lots and vacant houses and vacant green spaces into things like community gardens, and I think that that’s a really nice place where we can bring the compost and we can close the food circle and put it to use to rehabilitate these spaces to bring the power back to the community as far as what they’d like to see happen.
Guy Schaffer: Bushwick is a historically black and brown neighborhood that’s been undergoing a lot of really heavy gentrification in the last maybe 10 years or so, and so that kind of the scene in which BK ROT is operating. We’ve been watching as the neighborhood is really slipping out of the hands of the people who have lived there, black and brown people who have lived in the neighborhood for years are losing ownership of these spaces and also just losing opportunities within what Bushwick is turning into.

And so a lot of what we’re interested in doing in BK Rot is trying to create a different kind of development in the area that is focused on creating opportunities, for the people who have historically lived there, or the black and brown youth who have been left out of a lot of the development of the neighborhood.

Linda Bilsens: The next, I was hoping that each of you could talk a little bit more about the work that you’re doing, groups that you work with, in terms of building local power, how you might be empowering you communities by bringing people together, sharing skills, sharing knowledge, growing food, addressing social justice issues. Sophia do you want to go first?
Sophia Hosain: At the Real Food Farm we started processing compost via a compost cooperative, and most of our members come from about a three mile radius around where we’re located, which again is in Clifton Park Baltimore. We’ve created several partnerships with local businesses as well, for example we work with a couple local florists, most often local cauliflower and we take off their green waste from their shop and also we partner with the Institute of Local Self-Reliance and also with [Compost Cabs 00:06:10] who gets to drop off with us as well. We adopted the cooperative model because I feel really passionately about people being able to take initiative and responsibility for their trash. One of the most pressing and upsetting things to me about the way that we live these days is that we buy packaged things, there’s single use items and we put them out in our driveway or on our street to be picked up in our alleys and someone takes them and we have no idea where it goes.

But one of the really pressing issues facing Baltimore is that Curtis Bay, which is in the southern part of Baltimore City, it was the most polluted zip code in the United States in 2013 and 14 I believe, That’s because it’s home to five different incinerators and so part of the reason why I am so set on making people responsible for their own food waste is because it is directly affecting their health because these incinerators are putting toxic chemicals out into the air which people are breathing and there’s high levels of asthma and early rates of death in Curtis bay and I’m trying to have people, especially here in the Clifton Park area, just be responsible and change their habits in ways that is conducive to rehabilitating cites soils.

So, the cooperative model allows for us to do that in that we’re really transparent in what compost is, how it comes about, how you can do it at home, how you can do it with us, how you can use it in your garden. Ways to just reduce your food waste production at home, because we do have the good fortune of being on a farm we’re able to demonstrate the ways that food can go from ground to plate to compost and then right back into the garden and so you really see the whole picture of the life of food.

Guy Schaffer: If I could just ask you a quick question Sophia, you mentioned that you’re on a farm, now that is an urban farm, right? I mean it’s probably one of the few farms that has bus stops nearby, I’m guessing.
Sophia Hosain: Yes, it is an urban farm. We grow on about six acres. We actually farm the athletic fields of the school so we have a little bit more space than most of your urban farms. Yes we’re right off of Hartford Road which has bus stops all up and down it but actually there’s quite a few urban farms and gardens in Baltimore. We’re not the only one doing cool composting.
Linda Bilsens: Guy, what about yourself, what are you and BK ROT doing in the Bushwick community to empower people?
Guy Schaffer: So kind of a central thing in BK ROT is really about jobs creation. We are in a really interesting moment in New York City. The city has [long 00:08:49] and nurtured a strong community composting culture, but that community composting culture is based mostly on volunteer base composting. We’re interested in trying to take this kind of labor, the community should do, in order to keep resources local, and turn it into something that’s a job. There’s not a barrier to entry around who has time to actually do this volunteer work. The way we run our compost system we have youth workers who are picking up food scraps on bike and then doing all the work of processing it, sifting it, bagging it, distributing it. They’re paid 15 bucks an hour, they get the [00:09:30] education around compost, it’s like a good job, these kids are treated as experts because they now how to run a compost system and they understand the science of it and then they also working on getting them public speaking opportunities as they help to represent the org at events and stuff.
Christopher Mitchell: I just wanted to build off of Sophia’s point about the incinerators at Curtis Bay-
Guy Schaffer: Bushwick has likewise long been a huge sacrifice zone in New York’s general pattern of environmental racism. Bushwick has been home to a disproportionate amount of the city’s transfer station for decades and so one of the things BK ROT is interested in doing is trying to design ways in which we can deal with waste in a way that is not onerous. That is, there’s going to be waste everywhere in New York City and if we’re creating waste management infrastructure that’s actually pleasant to be around I think that’s a really important intervention that we can make.
Christopher Mitchell: If I hear a critique often about coming form more conservative circles, is that dealing with food insecurity in major cities would be solved better by just getting more Walmarts in and around them rather than anything else and I’m just curious if you can give us a better sense of how your approach is better than looking to a big corporation coming in and just selling more food.
Guy Schaffer: I guess the important things for me is just about the way the value is moving in that kind of system. With BK ROT system, and we’re not [specifically 00:11:08] dropping food where it’s more central to us, but we do try to create a system in which we’re keeping value close to us. The value that’s inherent in food scraps is being extracted and distributed to workers within Bushwick rather than being extracted to somewhere outside of the city. And so with food systems there, I think it’s just the exact same thing. We need to, if we’re putting Walmarts in our cities that is really just creating a big siphon for value, pull value out of neighborhoods.
Christopher Mitchell: And so Sophia, I’d love to hear your take on it as well.
Sophia Hosain: I’m always thinking about should anything happen, should we face a natural crisis, a political crisis, a warfare crisis, what happens to cities? Cities so often only have a three day food supply at most and so if we’re talking sustainably, if we’re talking about creating a system that’s going to work no matter what happens, really making a community wealthy then your food should come from where you live. All that food that comes to Walmart comes from huge mid-western conglomerate farms that really have no interest in the people even eating it, but if we can have people making their own food and using compost that they make from their food waste to make that happen I think that ultimately the community is richer and the individual is richer, and those things don’t happen mutually exclusively and that’s the cooperative idea, that the wealth of the community is individual wealth that no one person is better off without their community being empowered as well.

And so I think that when you’re talking about interesting food deserts it’s such a huge problem especially in Baltimore, you’re talking about adding more Walmarts, most of Baltimore is a food desert and what we talk about when we talk about food deserts is like having fast produce available within a quarter mile of where you live. I personally wouldn’t consider the food that you get at Walmart to be representative of what would be a healthy diet. First of all it’s not even an entity that’s dedicated to specifically to providing food. [inaudible 00:13:17] reiterating what Guy said, that wealth that we’re creating from food waste and food scraps needs to be recycled within our communities in order to truly make a wealthy community and a sustainable one at that.

Christopher Mitchell:  Right, I think those are really good points that both of you raised-
Linda Bilsens:  I think you guys do such a great job of exemplifying how something like composting fits into this idea of empowering local communities and addressing issues like social and environmental injustices and food deserts in particular, I think it’s a connection that it’s not always a natural connection for people to make so I think that hearing your stories just really helps put that into context. I would also add to the question that Chris just posed, that I think that community gardens, urban farms, community composting, anything like that that you can do in our communities that brings people together and gets people to collaborate on these positive projects, for positive end goal, is just building those connections that I think can’t be overstated how important that is. Especially in a time when there is gentrification and other forces like that that makes it harder for people to connect with each other, just creating positive and safe spaces for neighbors to meet each other and collaborate, I think is a really beautiful and powerful thing, and that’s something that you don’t necessarily get with the big buck store like a Walmart.
Christopher Mitchell: I’d love to get a reaction from Sophia and Guy on that point because I think it’s a really interesting point in terms of any examples of communities pulling together and maybe then doing things that are even unrelated to the work that initially started perhaps.
Sophia Hosain: One of the awesome things that comes out, like when they were talking about this point of personal connection is, we didn’t move beyond talking about food waste. That is one part of the dire situation we’re facing as earth warriors in the current environmental crisis, it’s not the only one, by being in this cooperative environment and meeting monthly, meeting weekly and turning piles with people from the community and talking about how much food they’re directly responsible for removing from the incinerator waste stream, we get to open the dialog to all sorts of other things, like talking about fossil fuel usage and how most of the people who drop off to our cooperative live within a couple mile radius, we’re talking about alternative modes of transportation, we’re talking about alternative models of economy.

Talking about compost as that being a resource that is even greater than money because you can pay infinite amounts of money and never be able to rebuild severely degraded city soils but compost can do that and so we make these personal points of connection and it opens our worlds to talking about all sorts of other stuff, like the – like making vegetable soup out of your food scraps that you don’t necessarily want to throw away, like cabbage ends, or carrot ends, or broccoli stems, just like that point where you can have conversation, where you can meet people face to face where they’re at, where you can have that personal connection and set dialog back and forth it opens the door to infinite collaboration as a community.

Christopher Mitchell: Yes, I’m glad to hear that. Guy, I’m just curious have you seen anything like that as well?
Guy Schaffer: Yes absolutely. I think the connections you can create with people while doing this labor together. Our current space, Know Waste Lands, is a garden that was designed to be beautiful and open and inviting and people walk in off the street to join us in this space just to look at flowers, we’ve started getting some kids, there’s like a trio of I think maybe 10 year old girls, who just come in and play with worms and they’re great and they’re just like kids who I know now. The creation of open space, the availability of work that is seen as valuable and interesting and educational and uplifting I think it all just goes to, it does pull people together, I mean it builds community, it makes people talk to their neighbors, which has been a really exciting thing, I feel so lucky to be a part of it, and to still be a part of it.
Christopher Mitchell: Excellent, so I think Linda has a closing question for you.
Linda Bilsens: Thank you both for taking the time to share your stories today, just help put compost into context in terms of building local power. Sophia has introduced us to the Curtis Bay neighborhood which she mentioned about it earlier, being the most polluted zip codes in the Maryland State and so on, but Guy I was hoping you might be able to share a little bit about what benefits you think a project which BK ROT has up in Brooklyn, what can transfer to a community like Curtis Bay in Baltimore and maybe even beyond.
Guy Schaffer: I for one want models like BK ROT to be replicated far and wide. I think it is making this really important intervention in the way that waste systems work by taking waste and waste labor and making both of them more visible. Now what that does is I think that it makes people more aware of what they’re throwing away, but also makes people more aware of the fact that work needs to be done in order to bring what they do throw away back into the economy, back into their world, back into the value of their life, and so I think that this model has a lot of potential impact for a place like Curtis Bay.

I think it has a lot of potential impact for places that can make use of compost through reclamation of that material through urban farming, I think it has a lot of use for places that have been overly burdened by waste infrastructure and that can benefit from having an actually nice waste infrastructure in the area, I think it could be useful in places that have a crisis of opportunity, like Curtis Bay, like Baltimore, where we need more jobs for people, that are good jobs that pay decently, are rewarding and make you feel like you are contributing to the world.

Linda Bilsens: Great answer and I think that is something maybe that wasn’t touched on, is that Curtis Bay not only does it have so many incinerators, it’s also seen a loss of industry over the last decade in terms of manufacturing and ship building so the opportunity to employ local youth is really a powerful, powerful thing. I think in that context especially.
Sophia Hosain: Just another dynamic to add to the Curtis Bay situation is that it’s also home to the largest public housing unit. It’s population is by and far very economically depressed.
Linda Bilsens: Yes that must be powerful, and Sophia you’re from Baltimore, right?
Sophia Hosain: Yes.
Linda Bilsens: Guy, where are you from again?
Guy Schaffer: Silver Spring, Maryland.
Linda Bilsens: I don’t know if there’s anything else that you want to make sure we touched on.
Christopher Mitchell: Yes, go for it.
Guy Schaffer: One of the things that I have been really excited about is being an opportunity present in compost, just inherent in the method is that it’s very low tech and very DIY and doesn’t actually require a ton of investment and so it really, unlike a metals or glass recycling, compost really offers people a way to design, resource recovery systems that work for them and there’s just a lot of flexibility in the design of compost systems. It creates a lot of opportunity for creating more sustainable and more valuable things.
Christopher Mitchell: Yes I’m glad you made that point, that’s really, it’s worth remembering these things you can do just about anywhere with a small loan or maybe not even needing that, that’s a kind of opportunity that we need to be promoting. Any closing comment from Sophia?
Sophia Hosain: One of the most valuable lessons that I got from doing this often, weekly, every day in terms of making compost is that [inaudible 00:21:20] involving the community in our endeavor were making all of those people co-conspirators in our effort to rehabilitate our immediate environment. Not allies, which sometimes can become a passive thing, but co-conspirators, an active role that your taking in creating a better world that you want to see and it is always amazing and powerful to me.
Guy Schaffer: I love that compost conspiracy idea.
Christopher Mitchell: Yes and I think on that we’ll probably will close it out. It’s been a very interesting conversation and I’m really glad to know not only that you guys are out there doing this work but that you’re able to share it and I hope that will inspire other people to do these sorts of things in their communities. Linda was there a good place so we can direct people to learn more about the sort of things we’ve been talking about?
Linda Bilsens: I think that our website at
Christopher Mitchell: Dig into composting at that should be our new jingle. All right well thank you everyone for listening and we’ll catch you in another two weeks with another Building Local Power podcast.
Lisa Gonzalez: That was Sophia Hosain and Guy Schaffer joining Linda Bilsens and Christopher Mitchell for episode number 19 of the Building Local Power podcast. Take a look at more of our composting resources at You can learn more about her guest’s projects at and Subscribe to this podcast and all of our podcasts on iTunes, Stitcher or wherever else you get your podcasts. You can also sign up for our monthly newsletter at Thanks to Dysfunction_AL for the music, license through creative commons, the song is Funk Interlude. I’m Lisa Gonzalez from the Institute for Self-Reliance, thanks again for listening to episode 19 of the Building Local Power podcast.

Subscribe: iTunes | Android | RSS

Audio Credit: Funk Interlude[22] by Dysfunction_AL Ft: Fourstones – Scomber (Bonus Track). Copyright 2016 Licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution Noncommercial (3.0)[23] license.

  1. Building Local Power:
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  3. Linda Bilsens:
  4. celebration of International Compost Awareness Week:
  5. Civic Works’ Real Food Farm:
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  18. Community Composters Gather at Conference in Los Angeles:
  19. NSR Master Composter Course in Baltimore:
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Policies That Make Markets Work, Hello Antitrust! – Episode 18 of the Building Local Power Podcast

by Nick Stumo-Langer | April 27, 2017 12:00 pm

This week in Building Local Power[1], we are focusing on what makes and breaks markets – market power, monopoly, and antitrust. As we discuss with noted antitrust Silicon Valley lawyer Gary Reback, markets require intelligent intervention to prevent power from becoming too consolidated.

Let’s be blunt – if you are happy with the Internet access choices or airline experience you have, this isn’t for you. But if you want an economy that works for you, this is a good place to start.

Reback’s book, Free the Market: Why Only Government Can Keep the Marketplace Competitive[2], comes highly praised by our own Christopher Mitchell, who conducts the interview. Reback had a front-row seat to the failings of government policy that has allowed a few technology firms to garner so much market power today – but it is not too late to re-introduce competition to the market via smart policies.

For full transcript of the podcast, click here[3].

“But what we’ve seen over the last several years is people on both the left and the right [are] beginning to ask hard questions [about] whether US industries have become too concentrated,” says Gary Reback of the power of antitrust policy. “Is there too much market power in just a few companies? Certainly a lot of that is focused on the high tech industries. It’s not just Elizabeth Warren…but it’s also some of the conservatives from places like Utah are also focused on these kinds of questions.”



Get caught up with the latest work from the Institute for Local Self-Reliance on antitrust policy and economic concentration by exploring our resources, below:

Monopoly Power and the Decline of Small Business: The Case for Restoring America’s Once Robust Antitrust Policies[9]

America’s Major Market Power Problem – Episode 13 of the Building Local Power Podcast[10]

With New Wave of Mega-Mergers, the Big Aim to Get Bigger[11]

Amazon’s Growing Stranglehold – Episode 6 of the Building Local Power Podcast[12]

Resources available from

Here’s the book that Gary Reback wrote:


Free the Market! Why Only Government Can Keep the Marketplace Competitive[18] Available from an independent retailer here:[19].

View the full transcript of the podcast, below.If you missed our previous episodes make sure to bookmark our Building Local Power [20]Podcast Homepage[21]. Please give us a review and rating on iTunes or wherever you subscribe to podcasts.

Full Transcript of Podcast:

Christopher Mitchell: Hey folks, welcome to a speciall edition of the Building Local Power podcast. I’m Chris Mitchell, I usually host the show and I’ve been involved in a lot of the interviews, and I run our broadband policy for the Institute for Local Self-Reliance. This is a special episode, it’s an interview that we did with Gary Reback, a noted antitrust attorney who’s pretty well known for trying to make sure marketplaces are working and that we have real competition.

This is an interview that I actually did for our Broadband Bits podcast, but we didn’t really get into the community broadband aspect, we really talked more generally about antitrust. We thought this would be a really good episode for people who are concerned about communities and the role that growing consolidation has on all aspects of markets and how it’s impacting our communities. So, I hope you enjoy it, and I definitely recommend you check out Gary’s book Free the Market! It’s a terrific book about antitrust.

As always, please review the show, rate it, wherever you find it, iTunes, Stitcher, or wherever. We really want to make sure that this show grows and that more people hear about it to make sure that we can still keep putting out great episodes and talking to great guests. Enjoy the interview.

Today, I’m speaking with Gary Reback, a well-known Silicon Valley lawyer. Welcome to the show, Gary.

Gary Reback: Thank you.
Christopher Mitchell: I’m excited to have you on the show. You’re well-known for being very involved in getting the government to sue Microsoft and for writing a book that actually came to me at a really good time about seven years ago called Free the Market!: Why Only Government Can Keep the Marketplace Competitive. I really enjoyed that book, highly recommend it. For our audience’s sake, we’re not going to talk much about broadband in this conversation. But I think that many of these principles around competition in markets apply very strongly but it’s something that will be sort of in the sideline. Gary, I’m curious if we can just start with a brief description of what you might describe as a working market before we spend the rest of our time talking about the markets that aren’t working as well.
Gary Reback: So that’s an important question and an important point, Chris. We live in a capitalist system and the whole theory of a capitalist system is that when markets are functioning properly, everybody’s better off, not just a few people but everybody’s better off and resources are allocated correctly and people will get what they want at the best available prices and so forth. So in a well functioning market, you have a bunch of buyers and they’re all competing against each other. You have a bunch of sellers and the sellers are all competing against each other. Then you kind of have an interface between the two groups where transactions occur and the competition among the buyers and the competition among the sellers enables exactly the most efficient transactions to occur across that interface and that what makes a market very, very productive.
Christopher Mitchell: Well, with that in mind, I’m curious if you could just rattle off a couple of instances in which you’ve worked on areas in which those markets had broken down?
Gary Reback: A lot of the work I’ve done is in high technology or information technology and specifically in the software markets. There are some markets that are called network markets like the phone system for example where the normal rules of economics don’t really apply as well. In these markets, whoever gets the lead tends to maintain that lead and dominate the market particularly if they exploit their position using anti-competitive practices. So for example, if you use a certain Word processor or if all your friends do, you really have to be on that same Word processor or something compatible. You might like a different Word processing program but if everybody else is on one you don’t like, you still have to use that.

That creates what called a network effect or a network externality. Those kinds of conditions make the efficient operation of markets more challenging. Markets can still operate efficiently but in those kinds of markets, we have to have good government oversight and appropriate intervention when bad things occur in order to maintain competition and to get the right allocation of resources.

Christopher Mitchell: Now, when you say that, I think what you’re talking is smart policies, one of the things that I’m often criticized for by people who don’t like my work as someone who I think of as arguing for smart government policies is a knee-jerk sense that government involvement will inevitably hurt the market and make the market less competitive. I’m curious how you respond and I’m sure you run across this idea all the time as well.
Gary Reback: Sure. One way to think about this is the difference between antitrust enforcement, enforcement of the antitrust where laws and regulation. Now, we do need regulation in some cases which we can talk about. But generally speaking, antitrust lawyers think that regulation really is not quite a good approach and it tends to have some of these bad effects that you’ve eluded to but antitrust enforcement, we sometimes call it the free market approach to regulation. Let me just explain the difference for a second.
Christopher Mitchell: Please do.
Gary Reback: Yeah, in a regulation situation, a group of people are chosen in fact to micromanage the industry and they’re not industry managers from the industry. They’re chosen not by the shareholders. They’re chosen generally by political figures. They get together and manage the industry, sometimes it’s a single company that dominates an industry and they manage in a rather intrusive way. They tell the industry who it can sell to and at what prices, where it has to invest more resources and so forth. Now, in that kind of situation, the people who criticize regulation sometimes, not always, but sometimes have a good point.

Antitrust works on a different principle. The principle is this, the government sets the basic rules of competition. Then the government steps back and it lets the competitors in the market duke it out under those rules of competition as long as everybody obeys those rules, the government really doesn’t have much of a role to play but if somebody breaks the rules, the government doesn’t try to regulate them, the government sues them and they bring them before a court and they present evidence and the judge makes a decision just as a judge would in any other prosecution of one kind or another.

We find over the years that in most cases, that works the best. Now, there are some cases where the market won’t support more than one company like the municipal water and sewage facility or something like that and there you do need regulation. You want to make sure that pharmaceuticals are safe and so you need regulation there and air traffic controllers for example. But in a lot of other industries, antitrust enforcement and free market competition would work a lot better than regulation would.

Christopher Mitchell: Well, and I think there’s an interesting point in terms to that. In many ways, we’d like to see, many of us would like to see government breaking up big companies. For instance, I might name Comcast or those other companies that people have suggested breaking up. In your book, at one point, you had mentioned that there was if the government’s not able to break them up then almost perpetual lawsuits might be preferable. Is that kind of a middle ground or is that actually just a second option that you described?
Gary Reback: Yeah, I almost described that humorously. I mean, obviously the best thing to happen is to maintain competition in the market. Now, you can generally maintain competition if you block anti-competitive mergers. A lot of big companies have acquired or because the government has let them acquire competitors or in the case of certain broadband companies, to acquire content providers for example and use that as a market advantage that excludes competitors at both levels of competition. I don’t know that I go the perpetual lawsuit route until I’d exhausted other things but you don’t have to start at breaking up the company, where you need to start is not letting the company acquire market power either through anti-competitive things that it does like exclusionary contracts or something like that or through mergers that increases market power in a way that consumers don’t benefit.
Christopher Mitchell: You labeled both horizontal and vertical mergers in that case which you would see as both being potentially damaging and letting a company perhaps gain too much power.
Gary Reback: Well, I certainly would. Now, traditionally, antitrust look at horizontal mergers with greater scrutiny than vertical mergers. As the conservatives began to take power in the antitrust area through what’s called the Chicago school that I think your listeners have heard about before, they de-emphasized antitrust scrutiny of vertical mergers and just focused on horizontal mergers. So the consequence is that I thin most people would agree that too much horizontal power through mergers is a very bad thing. We’ve come to understand through better research though that these vertical acquisitions can also create enormous problems.

It’s a bigger push though to get a conservative administration to take action in the vertical arena because generally speaking they don’t quite understand how the market mechanisms are being affected because if it’s a vertical acquisition, you’re affecting several different markets in the same supply chain and the analysis becomes more complicated. Nevertheless, I think these days, that these people on the cutting edge of antitrust would say we haven’t paid nearly enough attention to vertical mergers.

Christopher Mitchell: Well, I think it’s interesting you mentioned sort of the present day where we are seeing a lot more attention. You had mentioned in our previous discussion as you’re preparing for this that Elizabeth Warren and others are getting very involved. You also, I know, have a deep sense of the history behind anti-monopoly movements and my impression is is that this is not something that we would expect to come from one party but rather kind of a piece of each party working together to try and decentralize the power ultimately.
Gary Reback: I think so. Of course our problem, Chris, is that the two parties don’t seem to be able to work on much of anything these days in Washington. They won’t work together on much of anything. But what we’ve seen over the last several years is people on both the left and the right, political figures beginning to ask hard questions whether US industries have become too concentrated and not just the industries that I work in but industries more generally. Is there too much market power in just a few companies? Certainly a lot of that is focused on the high tech industries. It’s not just Elizabeth Warren, senator Elizabeth Warren who would be left off center but it’s also some of the conservatives from places like Utah are also focused on these kinds of questions.

So for the first time in a long time, I think we have some consensus at least among people who are looking at this area that maybe the lack of antitrust enforcement has been going on too long and we’re beginning to have some problems that need to be addressed.

Christopher Mitchell: Well, I think that’s where we’d like to push toward the end of the show is most people think of monopoly and they think, “Oh, I’m going to have to pay more when I buy something,” but that’s not even the worst problem, is it?
Gary Reback: Oh, I think it’s not even close to the worst problem. Let me give you several other problems that I think your listeners would consider far more important that too much industry concentration creates. So from an economic perspective, in order to raise prices, when a monopolist or a duopolist, what a concentrated industry does is it restricts output. If you want a present day example of that, think about these big airline mergers that have gone on in the last several years. United Continental and American US Airways, I mean, we’re down to the point that there are only a few major airlines in the United States.

Now, the consequence of that is of course higher prices in terms of all the fees they can impose but a bigger consequence is that you can’t get a seat on a flight when you need it anymore. This has particularly affected small to mid-sized cities across the country and certainly on the West Coast, we have this problem in spades. In order to keep the high prices, the few companies in the market simply restrict the availability of their service. So that to me is a bigger problem than the fact that you may have to pay more. You just can’t get it at all. So that’s one problem. We’ll call that output.

The second problem is that the effect of monopoly on innovation. We all benefit from lower prices but we benefit a lot more when there’s some breakthrough innovation in high tech or in pharmaceuticals or something like that. So our antitrust policy really ought to be directed at protecting innovation. Now, the problem is the monopolists would use some of its market power to maintain its monopoly, to keep itself from being displaced by some new technology. It would do things to try to restrict a challenger’s ability to get to market by engaging in exclusive contracts or by denying access in one way or another. So the net result of all that is that we’re denied the new technology that the challenger would bring to the market.

Let me give you a couple of examples, so back a couple of decades ago, Microsoft used anti-competitive practices against the company called Netscape that had invented the browser and actually ended up putting Netscape out of business. So that’s an example where they tried not just to hurt the competitor but to coop the technology so that they would own the browser market.

Christopher Mitchell: You actually in your book described how Microsoft went to Netscape and basically made them an offer that said basically we won’t kill you if you don’t compete with us, if you only put your browser on other platforms that are non-PCs, we’ll have the PCs you’ll have everything else and everyone will be happy. I mean, so they were very deliberate and open about it.
Gary Reback: Yes and obviously, some of the Microsoft people contest the facts in terms of exactly what they said and so forth but from the perspective of the government’s case, that’s right, the monopolist came in and said, look, you can live on an island and you can have whatever that island brings to you and we’ll just have the rest of the world and won’t that be fine. Of course, that won’t be fine. So if you think back 10 or 15 years ago, Microsoft owned the browser market. The only way you could get to Google for example is by going through Microsoft. 98% of Google’s traffic came from Microsoft. If you type on the browser line, Microsoft didn’t have to send you to Google. It could have put up a big red warning and say, “Hey, this site has been reported as stealing your personal information. Don’t go there.”

Of course, no one would have gone there and they would have killed Google in the cradle. They would have suppressed search technology which all of used everyday, why didn’t they do that? They were already being fined billions of dollars by the European Commission. They ran the risk of reigniting the antitrust scrutiny in the United States so they didn’t do it. As a result, we all benefited by this new technology.

Christopher Mitchell: I just found this really worth noting. The compulsory licensing response, another way in which I think people might not necessarily immediately think of that as a response to these antitrust problems but you talked about the history of compulsory licensing particularly around patents and things like that to basically make markets work to solve this problem, I think.
Gary Reback: We have a long history of compulsory licensing in the United States. They was compulsory licensing of a lot of the patents that the phone monopoly had. We have to be careful obviously because you want people to innovate and patent technology but when big companies use patents as a wall against market entry, that becomes a problem. From time to time, in past history as you mentioned, the government’s come in and ordered compulsory licensing. You don’t see that much anymore because patents have become so much more prominent and the conservatives in particular are reluctant to intervene in the patent market but that would be an effective way to deal with some problems as well. In software, generally speaking, the problem isn’t patents. But in other places, yes, that’s something really people should look at.

Modern monopolies in the high tech area take all your data and prepare dossiers on you which are, I don’t know, from my perspective very troublesome. I mean, I think most people understand that when they buy something online, whoever they’re buying from has a record and will use that record to help them find other things and that’s I think most people would accept that. But when you have a search engine that keeps track of your searches for many, many years and combines that information with what you buy and so forth, they get begin to get at what your political orientation is, where you live on the street, what your religion is, all kinds of things that becomes very, very problematic. We have a problem with privacy in the United States largely because we have several big companies that collect data across the board and that’s a problem that Europe is beginning to address but in the United States, really not so much.

Finally, Chris, just let me say, one of the other things we have found historically that industry concentration and monopoly does is it puts political power into the hands of monopolists because they can make political contributions and under our law there’s a case citizens united, the supreme court case from seven or eight years ago that gives big corporations the right to make unlimited political contributions. So some of the things that big tech companies want to lobby for are more or less okay by me. But other things they want to lobby for bother me a whole lot like the lack of privacy protection. So using monopoly to further political power is something that’s also very concerning.

Christopher Mitchell: That’s one that I long find very frustrating in part because it’s not just at the federal level. That money allows them to basically own state legislatures. They can be powerful at the local level. It’s corrupting everywhere.
Gary Reback: Yes, in fact, it’s much worst, I think. At least there’s some visibility, a bit of visibility at the federal level. At the state level, their projects which have sprung up in various places trying to get some daylight as to what’s going on but with the demise of local newspapers for example, we just don’t get the kind of coverage we used to. I agree with you, the effect of that kind of conduct at the state and local level is even more disturbing than at the national level.
Christopher Mitchell: So speaking of the state and local level, do you have any recommendations for what could be done at the state and local level to try and strike back at antitrust even though they don’t have the power to break them and things like that?
Gary Reback: Yeah, this is a tough question, Chris, because on one hand, these big tech companies have gotten so big, they’re multinational and so powerful, I’m not even sure a national government has the power to do much about them. I mean, I’ve always favored the United States working with Europe to have enough power to try to restrain these big companies. However, with the new administration, a number of people have now been looking to states to try to exercise some antitrust authority over these companies. Then there are states, many of the bigger states have their own antitrust enforcement mechanisms and they have their own antitrust laws. Now, they got to be careful because they have smaller budgets than the national government does.

But they might well be able to go after specific anti-competitive practices. So they wouldn’t have the wherewithal to do a 10-year case and break up one of these companies but they might be able to go into court and stop one of the big companies from doing something that’s anti-competitive that squelches new technology or that hurts consumers. Certainly, a lot of people are looking at that now because we don’t think we’re going to get much in the way of antitrust enforcement over the next few years.

Christopher Mitchell: Great. Well, thank you for taking the time and sharing some of your experiences and thoughts with us on antitrust.
Gary Reback: I appreciate you asking me and I hope your listeners and others continue the new interest in antitrust. It’s time we renewed its effectiveness.
Lisa Gonzalez: That was attorney Gary Reback joining Christopher Mitchell for episode 18 of the Building Local Power podcast. Remember to check out Gary’s book from your local independent bookseller. The title is Free the Market: Why Only Government Can Keep the Marketplace Competitive. We encourage you to subscribe to this podcast and all of our other podcasts on iTunes, Stitcher, or wherever else you find your podcasts. You can also sign up for our monthly newsletter at Thanks to Dysfunction_Al for providing music licensed through creative commons, the song title is Funk Interlude. I’m Lisa Gonzalez of the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, thank you for listening to episode 18 of the Building Local Power podcast.

Subscribe: iTunes | Android | RSS

Audio Credit: Funk Interlude[22] by Dysfunction_AL Ft: Fourstones – Scomber (Bonus Track). Copyright 2016 Licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution Noncommercial (3.0)[23] license.

  1. Building Local Power:
  2. Free the Market: Why Only Government Can Keep the Marketplace Competitive:
  3. click here: #transcript
  4. [Image]:
  5. Play in new window:
  6. Download:
  7. Android:
  8. RSS:
  9. Monopoly Power and the Decline of Small Business: The Case for Restoring America’s Once Robust Antitrust Policies:
  10. America’s Major Market Power Problem – Episode 13 of the Building Local Power Podcast:
  11. With New Wave of Mega-Mergers, the Big Aim to Get Bigger:
  12. Amazon’s Growing Stranglehold – Episode 6 of the Building Local Power Podcast:
  13. Comcast Merger Wrap-up and Anti-Monopoly Policy – Community Broadband Bits Episode 148:
  14. Susan Crawford, Captive Audience, and How to Kill the Cable Monopoly:
  15. The Real Threats from Monopoly – Community Broadband Bits Podcast #83:
  16. Local Governments and Internet Access Debate – Community Broadband Bits Episode 185:
  17. [Image]:
  18. Free the Market! Why Only Government Can Keep the Marketplace Competitive:
  20. Building Local Power :
  21. Podcast Homepage:
  22. Funk Interlude:
  23. Attribution Noncommercial (3.0):

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Bill To Limit Local Broadband Authority Appears In Maine

by Lisa Gonzalez | April 25, 2017 6:00 pm

Maine is the latest battleground for local telecommunications authority. A bill in the state’s House of Representatives threatens to halt investment in “The Pine Tree State” at a time when local communities are taking steps to improve their own connectivity.

“I Do Not Think It Means What You Think It Means”

Rep. Nathan Wadsworth[1] (R-Hiram) introduced HP 1040; it has yet to be assigned to a committee. Like most other bills we’ve seen that intend to protect the interests of the big national incumbent providers, this one also has a misleading title: “An Act To Encourage Broadband Development through Private Investment.” Realistically, the bill would result in less investment by discouraging a whole sector – local communities – from making Internet infrastructure investment.

Large national companies have thus far chosen not to invest in many Maine communities because, especially in the rural areas, they just aren’t densely populated. In places like Islesboro[2] and Rockport[3], where residents and businesses needed better connectivity to participate in the 21st century economy, locals realized waiting for the big incumbents was too big a gamble. They exercised local authority and invested in the infrastructure to attract other providers for a boost to economic development, education, and quality of life.

Not The Way To Do This

If HP 1040 passes, the community will first have to meet a laundry list of requirements before they can exercise their right to invest in broadband infrastructure.

HP 1040 contains many of the same components we see in similar bills. Municipalities are only given permission to offer telecommunications services if they meet those strict requirements: geographic restrictions on service areas, strict requirements on multiple public hearings including when they will be held and what will be discussed, the content and timelines of feasibility studies, and there must be a referendum.

The bill also dictates financial requirements regarding bonding, pricing, and rate changes. Municipalities cannot receive distributions under Maine’s universal service fund.

As one of the remaining states that don’t have restrictions on local authority and one of the most rural states in the country, Maine’s towns and counties are the best poised to turn around its status as poorly connected. Inflicting rules on local communities to make the process more difficult will end investment, not encourage it.

In 2015, Rep. Norm Higgins sponsored a bill to create better connectivity[4] through open access networks and by removing investment barriers. When we asked him about HP 1040, he said, “Competition should be encouraged and local control should not be infringed.”

State Battles Can Be The Toughest


Interestingly, Wadsworth, is listed as a state chair for the American Legislative Exchange Council[5] (ALEC) and this bill certainly complements their past work in Maine[6]. It’s easy to see that they want to quell the success of publicly owned networks in rural states in order to prevent the solution from taking hold in more densely populated areas.

This year, similar bills were introduced in Virginia and Missouri[7]. Missouri has seen this fight in the past[8] and, while the bill has been quiet lately, their session isn’t over just yet so anything could happen.

Virginia was especially tough, but grassroots organizations managed to fend off restrictions[9] that could have ended plans for several public projects and plans that included public-private partnerships.

Local Ire For HP 1040

Page Clason, Member of the Islesboro Broadband Committee, described HP 1040:

I would say this proposed bill is puzzling because while suggested to promote investment of broadband in Maine it would do the opposite.  Nothing in the bill provides stimulus, most everything in the bill provides increased hurdles and costs for communities needing the broadband investments. The only stimulus I can garner from such an approach would be that the largest providers would be further comforted that no other service providers would show up to do the builds that the dominating providers have not been supplying for the last few decades.

Check out the full text of the bill[10] and follow its progress[11].

Update: Since publishing our story, the bill was referred to the Committee on Energy, Utilities and Technology[12].

Image of the Maine House Chambers courtesy of Maine an Encyclopedia[13].

This article was originally published on ILSR’s[14]. Read the original here[15].

  1. Rep. Nathan Wadsworth:
  2. Islesboro:
  3. Rockport:
  4. sponsored a bill to create better connectivity:
  5. state chair for the American Legislative Exchange Council:
  6. past work in Maine:
  7. Missouri:
  8. seen this fight in the past:
  9. fend off restrictions:
  10. full text of the bill:
  11. follow its progress:
  12. Committee on Energy, Utilities and Technology:
  13. Maine an Encyclopedia:
  15. here:

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Residential Subscribers in Focus as Minnesota Weighs Community Solar Incentives

by Karlee Weinmann | April 22, 2017 6:00 am

In its filing on providing community solar incentives for residential subscribers, the Department outlined a loose framework[1] for the “adder,” designed to encourage community solar developers to pursue projects accessible that target residential subscribers. The agency pitched an incentive worth $0.025 per kilowatt-hour, to be phased out over time.


The residential adder discussion is part of a larger debate over what state regulators can do to ensure community solar is universally accessible. Particularly as these projects catch on with developers[3] in Minnesota and nationwide, sensible policies must ensure equitable distribution of their benefits — from reduced utility bills for subscribers to economic development in the communities they serve.

Earlier this year, ILSR advocated for holistic policies[4] designed specifically to improve access to such projects among low-income people. We also recommended that regulators consider a range of incentives[5] — for projects sited on brownfields, serving low-income communities, and having residential subscribers, among other criteria — to promote equitable development and participation.

This week, after the Minnesota Department of Commerce proposed general guidelines for a residential adder, ILSR submitted feedback[6] to the Commission. These comments are included below, lightly edited for clarity.

ILSR Comments Submitted on Minnesota PUC Docket No. 13-867

A residential adder is appropriate

We support adoption of the Department’s recommendation to include an adder to the VOS bill credit rate for residential subscribers. We appreciate the Department’s analysis that the adder is warranted based on the added cost of administering subscriptions for residential customers (and it supports data we’ve seen — which may have been submitted as trade secret — regarding the marginal cost of serving residential customers).

Existing statute favors a residential adder

As ILSR noted in comments submitted January 13, residential subscriber participation was a pivotal consideration in legislation that shaped community solar programming. It is an essential component of ensuring access to community solar projects across all customer classes.

Researchers in the Minnesota House of Representatives specifically noted in their summary of the statute[7] (216B.1641) that “it allows access to solar energy by renters and property owners lacking sufficient capital to install their own solar systems or whose property may be shaded or otherwise unsuitable for solar installation.”

An adder for residential participants helps cement community solar participation among groups otherwise at risk of being shut out of renewable generation. In our previous comments, ILSR noted roughly 50 percent of households cannot host their own solar, emphasizing the pivotal role community solar projects play in promoting more equitable access to clean energy.

The proposed adder value is reasonable

We support January comments filed by Cooperative Energy Futures[8] which align with the Department recommendation to develop a residential adder worth $0.025/kWh. We further support an adder for low-income participants, noting that there are marginal risks and costs associated with such subscribers.

Further review needed

While we remain open to a gradual step-down for the residential adder (as proposed by the Department), we recommend that any such implementation plan be based on more comprehensive market analysis that examines how community solar develops in Minnesota.

We agree with Cooperative Energy Futures’ earlier comments that any adders adopted by the Commission be applied in a way that does not favor out-of-state developers or introduce uncertainty with regard to financing. We also support Cooperative Energy Futures’ earlier recommendation that the Commission commit to regularly review adders to adjust them as needed over time, based on market dynamics.

Budget, capacity caps unnecessary

We do not believe there is a need for the Commission to impose a cap on capacity or budget for the recommended residential adder. Such a limit would not be in keeping with the intent of the community solar statute, designed to expand access to solar.

Further, the scheduled phase-out of the adder acts as a de facto cap and — like the phase out of federal tax credits for solar — provides predictability and market certainty that an arbitrary cap would not.

Confusion about the adder assignment

The request for comments on the Department’s recommendations asked for input on what point a project application should be assigned the residential adder. It was our understanding that the adder would be applied to the individual subscriber and not the project as a whole, but the questions open for comment seem to imply otherwise. Without knowing more about the methodology of choosing which projects are “residential” if adders are to be applied to whole projects, it’s difficult to say when the appropriate time would be to apply the adder. We believe the adder is best applied to the subscriber, where residential status can be easily verified.

This article originally posted at[9]. For timely updates, follow John Farrell[10] or Karlee Weinmann[11] on Twitter or get the Energy Democracy weekly[12] update.

  1. outlined a loose framework:
  2. [Image]:
  3. catch on with developers:
  4. advocated for holistic policies:
  5. a range of incentives:
  6. submitted feedback:
  7. summary of the statute:
  8. January comments filed by Cooperative Energy Futures:
  10. John Farrell:
  11. Karlee Weinmann:
  12. Energy Democracy weekly:

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Make Every Day Earth Day Through Composting

by Brenda Platt | April 21, 2017 4:30 pm

“The Nation that destroys its soil destroys itself.”

                                           – Franklin D. Roosevelt, 1937

With almost 30% of U.S. cropland eroding above soil tolerance levels – meaning the long-term ability of the soil to sustain plant growth is in jeopardy – President Roosevelt’s words ring as true today as in 1937. FDR was responding to the devastation wrought by the Dust Bowl during the Great Depression. Today, severe drought conditions are all too common, as are extreme storms.

Fortunately, we have one fairly simple solution: amending soil with compost.

Enhancing the ability of soil to retain water, slow stormwater run-off, and resist erosion is vital to life on this planet as we know it. That’s why we’re celebrating soil health this Earth Day.

Turns out, composting can save us in other ways too. Food scraps, leaves and other organic material can be transformed into compost. When buried or burned, these materials produce potent greenhouse gases and other pollutants. Some estimates indicate global food loss and waste contribute to 8% of all man-made greenhouse gas emissions. When converted into compost and added to the soil, food waste sequesters carbon. A lot of it. At the same time, on a per-ton basis, composting sustains many more jobs than landfills or incinerators.

In honor of Earth Day 2017, we are releasing a series of posters[1] to highlight composting’s myriad benefits. Share, download and use! (We are releasing with Creative Commons attribution.)

We are also sharing resources that can help educate your neighborhood on how compost builds community wealth:

Posters: Compost Impacts More Than You Think[2]

Hierarchy to Reduce Food Waste & Grow Community[3]


  1. series of posters:
  2. Posters: Compost Impacts More Than You Think:
  3. Hierarchy to Reduce Food Waste & Grow Community:
  4. (more…):

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Mayors Take on Preemption to Defend Local Solutions – Episode 17 of the Building Local Power Podcast

by Nick Stumo-Langer | April 20, 2017 12:00 pm

Welcome to episode seventeen of the Building Local Power podcast[1]. For full transcript of the podcast, click here[2].

In this episode, Andrew Gillum[3], Mayor of Tallahassee, Florida and founder of the advocacy group, Campaign to Defend Local Solutions[4] joins Christopher Mitchell[5], the director of ILSR’s Community Broadband Network’s initiative and Nick Stumo-Langer[6], ILSR’s Communications Manager for the latest episode of the Building Local Power podcast. The trio go into detail on the issue of preemption and what the state-level attacks on local sovereignty mean for communities across the country.

Check out the Campaign to Defend Local Solutions at their website[7], on Facebook[8], and on Twitter[9]. They have a great set of resources[10] and a number of different partners[11] in a number of communities.

“There’s a nimbleness to local governments that I think people have an appreciation for,” says Mayor Andrew Gillum[12] of the harms of state-level preemption in America’s communities. “…The legislature [is trying to] exclude us from being able to make any investments in that space for the greater good.”


Get caught up with the latest work from the Institute for Local Self-Reliance on the issue of preemption by exploring our resources, below:

Preemption, Local Authority, & Municipal Broadband – Episode 10 of the Building Local Power Podcast[18]

Who Decides?[19]

The Public Good Newsfeed – September 9, 2016: Trophy Hunting, Racist School Closings, and more…[20]

Here’s the reading/watching recommendation from Mayor Andrew Gillum:

From our guest, Mayor Andrew Gillum[12]:


We Are All Newtown Video Series –

View the full transcript of the podcast, below.If you missed our previous episodes make sure to bookmark our Building Local Power [22]Podcast Homepage[23]. Please give us a review and rating on iTunes or wherever you subscribe to podcasts.

Full Transcript of Podcast:

Chris Mitchell: Hey Nick, I’ve run across this new term ‘prumption?’ How do you say it?
Nick Stumo-Langer: Preemption.
Chris Mitchell: Preemption. You think I would have come across that before.
Nick Stumo-Langer: Yeah, well I can give you the dictionary definition.
Chris Mitchell: Yeah, please.
Nick Stumo-Langer: “A prior seizure or appropriation” but what that actually means in context, is a bunch of states repealing soda tax bans, plastic bag bans, and municipal broad band.
Chris Mitchell: Wow. this doesn’t seem like such a good idea and it seems like something we should talk about on Building Local Power, right now.
Nick Stumo-Langer: Yeah.
Chris Mitchell: In just about 15 seconds, you’re gonna hear us talking to Mayor Andrew Gillum but before that, I want to tell you who us is. I’m Chris Mitchell. I do a lot of the broadband work for the Institute for Local Self-Reliance and to help me talk with the mayor, we have …
Nick Stumo-Langer: Nick Stumo-Langer, the Communications Manager for ILSR.
Chris Mitchell: Let’s get to the mayor. Welcome to Building Local Power Mayor Andrew Gillum of Tallahassee. Thank you for coming on our show today.
Andrew Gillum: Yeah, no it’s my honor. I’m so pleased to see you all covering this topic.
Chris Mitchell: So today we’re gonna be talking about preemption and we wanted to start by asking you, mayor, how you really got drawn into this problem of states trying to take away your local rights. What happened in Tallahassee?
Andrew Gillum: We were really recruited into this by the state, by the second amendment foundation and their allies at the NRA. Circa 2011 the Florida Legislature passed a law basically prohibiting local governments from regulating guns in any way, shape, or form. We had prior to states preemption, a law in the book that basically said you couldn’t fire a gun in the city park. Because we refused to remove that from our local ordinances, we were then sued by these groups under Florida statute, which allows them to sue us in our personal capacities, including for decisions we make in our roles as elected officials. Which previously we had immunity from so that’s personal lawsuit. We could be fined up to $5,000. We could be responsible for paying up to $100,000 in attorney’s fees for the opposing parties, should they prevail. That we cannot use public funds to defend ourselves, which means we must find our own legal counsel and that we could face removal from office at the discretion of the governor.

And so we pushed back on that lawsuit, sort of dug us deeper into this fight. So for two years we’ve been in the courts, beat these interest groups now twice, but still seeking some constitutional judgment here on whether or not Florida law is in fact constitutional, which we maintain it is not. But I will say at least in the courts, we’ve been able to push back on these groups from being able to push local governments around and bully us into doing their bidding. My hope is that through our fight we maybe stiffen the spines of some other local governments that they don’t have to roll over to these guys. They have a lot of money and they may have a lot of political will and power, but we have people on our side. That’s why they elect us at the local level to represent their interest and it’s my hope that we’ll see more of this kind of action by way of defending local governments take place in other cities around the state of Florida but also around the country.

Chris Mitchell: Well and that’s what I think brings us to the larger story that we wanted to talk about, which is something called defend local solutions. I just wanted to note that this is an organization that is about preemption broadly. One of the things that we try to do and one of the things that I have no doubt that you do as a mayor, is try to make sure we’re not being unnecessarily divisive. And one of the things I like about this story is there’s a lot of conflict about the proper role of guns and policy but this is actually a fight not over whether or not one can have firearms, but about where you can discharge one. So I just wanted to highlight that for anyone who’s supporting local decisions but is kind of more of a fan of the NRA that might be listening.
Andrew Gillum: We’ve got people who support our fight here who are NRA card carrying members who are concealed carriers themselves but they get the common sense piece of this, which is it doesn’t make sense to fire and shoot a gun off in a city park where our families picnic and our kids play. They understand and they understand what that means to have common sense laws and any laws that impact guns to them is not an affront to the Second Amendment. I maintain that that’s the right conclusion that there are some things that can still be common and can still be logical and can still make sense to the average person without us having to go down this unnecessarily divisive rabbit hole or to have guns or not to have guns. That isn’t the fight and that’s not what this fight about.
Chris Mitchell: I’m just wondering if you could maybe follow-up a little bit on the campaign to defend local solutions and kind of talk a little about the breath and the depth of the organization and maybe even point to some of the great names that you have signed onto the campaign.
Andrew Gillum: One of the things that I think is important about this campaign is that we’re trying to pull together local government from over the United States because we’re noticing increasingly that this is a battle that’s being waged in cities and in states all across the country. And so whether you are concerned about where you can discharge a weapon or if you’re concerned about your own local regulations around the environment and around minimum wage or local hiring practice, affordable housing, human rights, you know, you name it. Broadband issues. You know, we’re here to defend the rights of local governments to make decisions that are in the best interests of the communities that they serve. That’s why people elect their superintendents and their local mayors and city council members so that those voices will undoubtedly be their representative voice in the corridors of power.

And so we’ve been really fortunate to hear from elected officials really all across the country, from California to Arkansas to Arizona to cities all over the state of Florida, Charlotte, North Carolina, Ohio. We’ve also been fortunate to get groups across the range of issue interest to join this campaign to defend local solutions because like us, they believe that local government has a role and in fact, Tip O’Neil was the one who said all government is local. In fact, you can probably find more Republicans quoted on the issue of local being the best and most representative form of government and now all of a sudden, in state legislatures, they’ve abandoned that thought and are now doing their earnest best to take away local decision making.

That’s why we created the campaign to defend local solutions so that local citizens and local elected officials can have a stronger collective voice to say we have a role in this Democratic process as well.

Chris Mitchell: It does seem like many people tend to believe the level of government that should be exercising power is whichever level of government they currently exercise the majority in. I’m curious in your work with defending local solutions that you came to this with a specific issue, were you surprised or were there any preemption issues where you were thinking really? They’re preempting on that? Take us along as you sort of went along this journey from where you started to where you are now.
Andrew Gillum: Well, as I heard stories from folks all around the country, North Carolina was very pronounced, right? Because it dealt with the transgender issue and transgender bathrooms.
Chris Mitchell: Right, the HB2 Bathroom Bill.
Andrew Gillum: Yeah, but that was only one element of it. I mean the other thing that the legislature in North Carolina did was remove the local government of Charlotte’s ability to set their own minimum wage and their own non-discrimination ordinances in their own city. And so we’ve seen that number played in a number of places around the country where non-discrimination practices have been challenged. Local communities ability to ban fracking. Their abilities to set their own minimum wage and bar middle regulations. In Florida, this legislative session there’s even a bill that is the most sweeping that I’ve ever seen, which basically says that local governments can’t create any regulations that impact businesses.

I can’t imagine the decision that I make as a mayor and previously as a city councilman that couldn’t be argued that it impacts business. And so the vagueness of that and the wide and sweeping nature of that is a huge threat to local governments. We fear that it may impact our ability to protect our water quality to our air quality to our signage, to our non-discrimination and wage laws. I mean, you name it. Legislation like that it’s overwhelmingly broad and in fact I don’t think it would stand a legal test but it does exactly what these legislatures are intending for it to do, which is to chill activities and to chill the rule making at the local level of these locally elected officials.

I think people will be surprised if they learn the kinds of things that were being discussed as part of this debate and I get it. I mean I understand it. If you are special interest and you pay tens of thousands to hundreds of thousands a year for lobbyists to represent your agenda, I would also want to concentrate the number of people that I have to talk to about my interests by limiting it instead of talking to over 400 cities across the state of Florida, to talking only to 120 members of the Florida House and 40 members of the Florida Senate. Their interest is very clear and their motives for doing that are very clear but who loses in that setup are the voters. The everyday people who are impacted by these kinds of decisions and that’s why we believe it’s important to defend local rule making and local involvement and how our communities are governed.

Nick Stumo-Langer: That’s great. So here at ILSR, one of our guiding principles is that we believe the best decisions for the community is made at the community level, at the local level. We’re kind of wondering, what’s the economic impact of preemption? What kind of things, outside of your own personal being able to be sued by whomever if they don’t like what you’ve come up with, what’s the local economic impact?
Andrew Gillum: I mean, for instance, if you’re preempting local communities with regard to how it is they set local wages, those are very real life and present impacts on the people who live in your community. If you’re in the state of North Carolina, your state has impacted to the billions because of … The negative impact of their own preemption laws, you had sporting tournaments canceling annual conferences, annual sporting events. You had slues of private sector businesses say that’s not a place in which I want to do business. Increasingly, young people and increasingly retirees are looking for and seeking out a certain quality of life, a certain level of inclusivity.

Welcoming communities when if you are retiring, you choose what is it you want to retire. Or if you’re a young person coming off of one of our college campuses or looking for where it is you may want to start a family or even a business, you’re looking at what kind of progressive policies might exist in the communities that you might be seeking to relocate. And so the impact is probably off the charts. There’s some real quantifiable ways we can see this. I think North Carolina gives us a really good glimpse of when you have regressive policies how it is can impact a community but you also see at a very localized level how it is that when you don’t create a good and strong quality of life for people to choose to live, they can choose other places to go.

I don’t think the story is yet told completely on the financial impacts and the negative regressive financial impacts that these kind of super preemptive policies have on local communities.

Nick Stumo-Langer: Definitely. And I think something I hear you saying and you might be a little bit too modest to say it, is that a place like Tallahassee or a place like Boulder or a place like wherever, the local leaders live in that community and they know what’s best for their community and they’re making these policies for a reason. So I think that’s a very powerful point.
Chris Mitchell: The opposite of that of course is the idea that everyone should have to live by the same exact rules and fundamentally, you deal with different problems in Tallahassee than people deal with in other parts of Florida where it’s not as dense where they have fewer people. I’m just wondering if you can-
Andrew Gillum: No, you’re right.
Chris Mitchell: Talk a little bit about that as a local leader.
Andrew Gillum: Anyone who has served at the local level knows that our communities are unique and they’re interesting and they are specific, right, to where we live. My city I’m the only city in the state of Florida that has two state universities located in them. One in HBCU and one a majority serving institution. We are in the northern panhandle where Tallahassee is a little bit of an arbitration compared to what exists around us, which around us is largely more rural. It is on the coast a little bit more tourism center and where we are we’re an everyday working community. We’re the seed of state government with universities and challenges that present themselves because of those unique differences. We’re not Miami, Florida. We’re not Miami Beach, Florida. And Miami Beach isn’t homestead Florida and so all of these places are different and are requiring their own local look at some of these problems.

I gotta be honest, I mean someone asked me what if the legislature were of your political persuasion and wanted to create laws that you felt were beneficial to your own ideology? And what I would say is preemption has a role largely to set the floor. A place by which regulations and standards should not go beneath. But in this case, the Florida legislature is conducting itself as a way to create a ceiling to regulation, create a ceiling to what could be done in that local communities are not allowed to do anything different or beyond what the state says because they carved out the territory again largely to feed a particular interest that doesn’t necessarily benefit the interest of the local government and the citizens who make up our cities and our counties. It’s really important that folks recognize, even if you’re not in the granular details of lawmaking and policy making, that all of us could I think reasonably agree, that we elect our local officials to represent the values and the interests of that local community.

There’s real value to that because I’ll tell ya, as a local elected, I don’t get to escape my decision making. I’m reminded when I’m on date night. I’m reminded when I’m standing in grocery store lines, when I’m at church, or taking my kids to the park. People are unrelenting about telling me what it is that they think based off what they read about an action that the local government took last week or yesterday or even a month ago. They don’t forget and they like having access to folks like me so that if they need to help change my mind or change my perspective about something, they can do that and I can’t underscore how critical it is for local government to be able to act rapidly to make certain changes in their community, which is very different than a legislature that meets three months out of a year. In some cases and in some states, take Texas for instance, where they don’t meet until every other year.

There’s a nimbleness to local governments that I think people have an appreciation for. I can literally take a vote on a Wednesday night and it have Thursday morning impact and I think that’s a little value for folks at the local level and people at the local level understand that and they appreciate it.

Chris Mitchell: Well, I have to say to some extent I feel like you’re reading out of our playbook. I mean all of the points that you make … When I first learned about the idea of ceilings rather supporting floors than ceiling and policy from co-founder of our organization. I think it’s just worth noting for people that before the great economic meltdown of ten years ago, a number of states in that case were actually trying to do some commonsense regulation to stop the rip-offs of people that wanted to buy homes. The state regulators said they couldn’t do it and we had a bigger problem because they wouldn’t let those sorts of things through so floors not ceilings. Absolutely. I’m totally with you on that.

Picking up on where you were leaving off though, a little bit about that local regulation you feel from the fact that you live in the community and your decisions have real, immediate impact, one of the things that Florida does it’s one of about 19 or 20 states that limit the ability of local governments to build broadband networks. Which is something that I focus on for ILSR and I’m just curious. The reason that state legislators often give for this is because you could just go ahead and squander millions upon millions of dollars that’s unnecessary and you wouldn’t face a consequence for it. That local taxpayers need to be protected so I’m always curious when I ask a mayor, do you have a sense that if you just squandered millions of dollars in unnecessary investments that there would be no repercussions?

Andrew Gillum: Well, I tell you I wish. Listen, we can’t squander a penny without reading about it or hearing about it and therefore creating a whole backlash from folks around what it is we’re doing with their money. It’s a little bit of jiu jitsu on behalf of state legislators to make that claim because you know they squander money everyday of the week and nobody knows about it because of the volumes of dollars that they’re talking about.

In our case, and we are looking at every dime, every nickel, everything that we spend as a government. In fact, if you go to our website, you’ll see there’s a checkbook on there and as you go through that checkbook you can see down to the cent what we spent on a vendor, on procuring a certain service, on buying a certain item, an investment that we made. That is available visa vi our public checkbook because our public demands that level of transparency and accountability on our behalf. That argument with regard to broadband is a false argument. It’s a straw man. It’s a nice sound byte but it doesn’t actually show up in any everyday life in our communities.

Take Chattanooga, for instance. Not only have they found a really powerful public use for the expansion of broadband and now they’re the one gig city, but they’ve also found an economic sort of edge that puts them and sets them apart from other communities because of the kind of rapidness of internet speeds that you can get as a business or a consumer or an everyday citizen. Like Chattanooga, we own and operate our own electric utility system. There are tons of efficiencies that we could gain through a smart grid system that gives our customers real time data, real information, assuming we were able to have a ubiquitous presence with regards to internet and high speed internet access.

But Florida law precludes us from doing that. Now to whose interest is that? I mean who does it benefit to keep local governments from being able to respond to the needs of their citizens as expressed through the will of their democratic vote but also through what we get to hear from them on a pretty everyday, robust feedback system at our city halls and in our email inboxes and on the telephone. Folks are on a best about telling us how they feel and I’ll tell ya, I consistently get comments from businesses and from individuals and from college students predominantly, saying man why don’t we have this? Why can’t we get that? Can you get Google fiber here? Can you do this? Can you expand this?

And at one point, we were able to be responsive to that and now that legislature has done a carve out excluding us from being able to make any investments in that space to the greater good. And so I think it’s very harmful and I think it also impedes the competitive advantages of local government that are increasingly trying to find ways to distinguish themselves, not only from the competitiveness of growing new business and industry, but also for our ability to attract and retain the kind of talent that we need to fill the pipe line for jobs that we want to create. The impacts are pretty significant for us and the legislature was clear about what it wanted to accomplish and I would maintain that what they were accomplishing was not in the interest of the everyday citizen but in the special interest of folks who pay lots of money to have sway over the process.

Nick Stumo-Langer: I think that’s a great point. So I know that we kind of touched on this a little bit earlier, but this is a useful buzzword I think for our listeners to hear. Can you just define ‘super preemption’ and what this means. Maybe kind of what the state legislature … Why this is a new problem.
Andrew Gillum: The courts have maintained that states do have the ability to carve out territory for themselves, also known as preemption. But what we have seen now and what we have referred to as this sort of preemption 2.0 the draconian version, is now that they have taken aim at individual elected officials. Removing from elected officials and indemnification or immunity for decisions that they make in their capacities as elected officials.

Take for instance if we were voting on a seatbelt law, and I had decided that I was going to vote against mandating seat belts and someone got in an accident and were hurt because they didn’t wear a seatbelt. You couldn’t come back and then sue me for voting against the seatbelt law simply because there was an accident and someone got hurt in. For me making a decision at my capacity as an elected official, I have immunity over that. Could you imagine if the new terrain became based on how you vote on a particular issue and its impact on a community you can be personally sued for those decisions. I mean it would have a complete chilling effect on elected officials and frankly our democracy as we know it.

So this is an important line that’s been moved by these lawmakers. Frankly we have not seen yet a strong enough constitutional challenge to force judges to answer this question as to whether or not that is legally acceptable. So the super form takes aim directly at electives but I would include in that another very punitive aspect is where you hear the president and others talking about penalizing cities that have declared themselves sanctuaries of taking federal money and withholding federal money for housing programs and homelessness programs and food safety and security programs because of a political difference. That’s unreasonable and it is extremely punitive to citizens.

Chris Mitchell: I would say it’s not actually only unreasonable, it’s particularly unwise because you look at Los Angeles where there’s this discussion about if they were to lose funding are we gonna not have security at the docks where we’re importing goods? I mean … It’s just a threat that has been made before. Anyone that’s actually contemplated the consequences of it. But I want to with our five minutes left, I want to make sure we just touch on what people can actually do. So you can certainly follow defend local solutions on social media. You know, I see you guys are active on Twitter but what really can be done to make sure that we’re correcting this problem?
Andrew Gillum: Well one, I do want to emphasize folks is following us and joining us at where you can find a great collection of resources. Stay up on the latest news on some of these fights that are happening all across the country. Sharing those stories out because I really do believe that the most powerful instrument here is changing public will. If the public knew exactly what was at stake in some of these preemption fights, it would make their heads spin. I think legislators largely get away with it because it feels like inside a baseball but the impacts of these decisions are real and they’re felt everyday in communities.

But what we’re trying to do is we’re not just trying to be an aggregator of information, but we’re trying to help local elected officials find their voice so that they can be stronger advocates for what local governments and local communities need to build a strong enough and robust enough fight back mechanism so that our folks know that they’re not dealing with this thing in isolation. But that this seems to be a real plan coming together in cities and states all across the country that are stripping power from local governments.

We’re also hoping that through our work we’ll be able to find stronger legal ground to fight this fight. In Ohio, we found that off of the merit of the local charter that was grounds enough to push back on the state legislator’s overreach into decision making that belonged squarely with the local government and not in the hands of the state. That’s an important legal argument that maybe it can be asserted in other counties and cities that also have strong charters that carve out space for local governments to have a real ground to fight on.

I would say we’re trying to increase the level of communications and discussion and conversation about this really important public topic. That this is not just about local governments and state governments fighting for more control. That to the extent that we’re fighting at the local level is to increase the ability and maintain the ability for local governments to choose and decide for themselves what’s in the best interest of their own communities. That’s not part of an issue, I think it’s simply a question of division of power and our ability to make sure that our communities can be treated when distinct and unique that we’re able to have laws and rules and governments that reflect the uniqueness of our communities. That’s not to say there shouldn’t be floors, there absolutely should be floors.

But preventing us from looking our for the best interests of citizens to do the bidding of powerful money well healed and local interest, is not going to serve the public well and that’s why we need the voices of local governments, local officials, local citizens, speaking up and speaking out.

Chris Mitchell: Mayor Gillum, can I ask you one last question. It’s our easiest question and that’s, if you can recommend a recent article that you’ve read that you think is interesting, whether it’s on this topic or another, or a favorite book. We always just like to recommend something for folks to check out.
Andrew Gillum: One piece that I found was particularly striking to my constancy, was the “We Are All Newtown” web series that was done. I believe we may have access to the resource for that on our campaign to defend local. I’ve gotten really close to a number of the folks who shot and supported the Newtown documentary that was done but there’s a good reading about that and also access to the documentary that was done on PBS that folks can get access to. I highly recommend it.
Chris Mitchell: All right. Well thank you so much for your time Mayor Andrew Gillum and for spearheading this campaign to make sure that we can restore local authority.
Andrew Gillum: Absolutely. And thank you all for your interest in the subject.
Lisa Gonzalez: That was Mayor Andrew Gillum from Tallahassee, Florida joining Christopher Mitchell and Nick Stumo-Langer for Episode 17 of the Building Local Power podcast. Nick is our Communications Manager and Christopher heads up the Community of Broadband Networks Initiative. Remember to check out to learn more about the campaign to defend local solutions.

We also encourage you to subscribe to this podcast and all of our other podcasts on iTunes, Stitcher, or wherever else gets your podcasts. You can also sign up for our monthly newsletter at Thanks to dysfunction Al for the music license to creative comments. The song is “Funk Interlude.”

I’m Lisa Gonzalez from the Institute for Local Self-Reliance. Thanks again for listening to Episode 17 of the Building Local Power podcast.

Subscribe: iTunes | Android | RSS

Audio Credit: Funk Interlude[24] by Dysfunction_AL Ft: Fourstones – Scomber (Bonus Track). Copyright 2016 Licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution Noncommercial (3.0)[25] license.

  1. Building Local Power podcast:
  2. click here: #transcript
  3. Andrew Gillum:
  4. Campaign to Defend Local Solutions:
  5. Christopher Mitchell:
  6. Nick Stumo-Langer:
  7. website:
  8. Facebook:
  9. Twitter:
  10. set of resources:
  11. different partners:
  12. Mayor Andrew Gillum:
  13. [Image]:
  14. Play in new window:
  15. Download:
  16. Android:
  17. RSS:
  18. Preemption, Local Authority, & Municipal Broadband – Episode 10 of the Building Local Power Podcast:
  19. Who Decides?:
  20. The Public Good Newsfeed – September 9, 2016: Trophy Hunting, Racist School Closings, and more…:
  21. [Image]:
  22. Building Local Power :
  23. Podcast Homepage:
  24. Funk Interlude:
  25. Attribution Noncommercial (3.0):

Source URL:

Press Release: Walmart’s Climate Pollution Grows as It Scales Back Renewable Power

by Nick Stumo-Langer | April 19, 2017 5:06 pm

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: Wednesday April 19th, 2017

CONTACT: Nick Stumo-Langer,[1], 612-844-1330

Walmart’s Climate Pollution Grows as It Scales Back Renewable Power

More than a decade after Walmart pledged to become an environmental leader, the company’s climate emissions continue to rise, according to data released today by the Institute for Local Self-Reliance (ILSR).

ILSR found that Walmart has scaled back its renewable power projects in the U.S. The amount of renewable energy the company derives from its clean energy projects and special purchases fell by 16% since 2013.

Walmart derives only 2.4% of the electricity it uses in the U.S. from its own renewable energy projects, down from nearly 3.2% in 2013. Meanwhile, Walmart’s greenhouse gas emissions in the U.S. have risen 2% since 2013.

For its analysis, ILSR relied on data submitted by Walmart to CDP (formerly the Climate Disclosure Project).

“While other national retailers and many small businesses are generating a sizable share of their power from clean sources, Walmart has made very little progress, especially in the last few years,” said Stacy Mitchell, ILSR’s co-director.

The figures released today update data that ILSR published in two in-depth reports on Walmart’s environmental impact: Walmart’s Dirty Energy Secret[2] (2014) and Walmart’s Assault on the Climate[3] (2013).



[4]Cover Image: Walmart Climate Report[5]





The Institute for Local Self-Reliance (ILSR) is a 42-year-old national nonprofit research and educational organization. ILSR’s mission is to provide innovative strategies, working models and timely information to support strong, community rooted, environmentally sound and equitable local economies.[6] – Email[7] for press inquiries.

  2. Walmart’s Dirty Energy Secret:
  3. Walmart’s Assault on the Climate:
  4. [Image]:
  5. [Image]:

Source URL:

NSR Master Composter Course in Baltimore

by Linda Bilsens | April 19, 2017 3:45 pm

In October and November of 2016, ILSR’s Composting for Community Initiative[1] replicated its Neighborhood Soil Rebuilders[2] (NSR) Master Composter course in Baltimore at Civic Works’ Real Food Farm[3]. Real Food Farm grows fresh produce on 8 acres in and around the Clifton Park neighborhood in northeast Baltimore, serving 2 nearby food deserts. Before the course, ILSR built Real Food Farm a 5-bin rat-resistant composting system, which was central to the hands-on instruction during the six-week NSR course. After the course, ILSR helped the farm’s compost project managers design a new food scrap drop-off program, which provides the backbone for the cooperative management structure they have successfully implemented. As a result, Real Food Farm is poised to serve as a model for other urban farms in Baltimore and beyond, as well as a training site to spawn additional local community composting projects. As a train-the-trainer course, the NSR builds leadership capacity and increases the pool of local compost advocates and experts — In Baltimore, that is already leading to more community-based composting sites being planned and implemented.

Photo courtesy of Urban Farm Plans

Partners for the course included Civic Works’ Real Food Farm (where we conducted the training and have established a composting system), ECO City Farms[4] (a training partner), and Urban Farm Plans[5] (the builder of the new composting system at Real Food Farm). There were 14 participants in the course that represented a diverse segment of the urban farming movement of Baltimore: 1 zero waste consultant; 1 university professor; the Baltimore City Farms Program[6] coordinator for the City’s Department of Recreation & Parks; 3 AmeriCorps volunteers; 3 international fellows; and 6 other individuals that either directly work at area urban farms (Real Food Farm, Strength to Love II, ECO City Farms) or work with organizations that support this work (Civic Works[7] and the Farm Alliance of Baltimore[8]). The course itself provided a critical opportunity for leaders in the urban farming movement to come together and collaborate, particularly to complete the “capstone” project requirement.

Inspired by our NSR program replication in Atlanta, we developed a replicable Social Justice module for the Baltimore NSR. The module was co-led by Nadine Bloch (Beautiful Trouble[9]), Linda Bilsens (ILSR), Myeasha Taylor (Civic Works), Sophia Hosain (Real Food Farm Americorp service member), and Sache Jones (Farm Alliance of Baltimore). We also invited a graduate of our NSR course, Xavier Brown of Soilful City[10], to share how composting is helping him empower his Southeast DC community through establishing gardens and skill-sharing. 

NSR course participants practice building compost piles in RFF’s new system

Well-run demonstration sites are to people’s understanding of what good compost is and how it is made. For a demonstration site, ILSR advocates, for instance, for rat-resistant systems, planning the full system (i.e., carbon storage, feedstock handling, signage, record-keeping, curing area, screener, etc.), and evaluating grade for where to place system (drain away from edible plants). Real Food Farm is on its way to being just such a site. On December 18th, 2016 Real Food Farm held its first Compost Co-op training where members of the community came to learn about the new food scrap drop-off system. The Co-op is now up to 50 members and is also composting food scraps collected by Compost Cab[11]. Find out more about their Compost Co-op here[12].


Urban Farming in Baltimore: The City of Baltimore is dedicated to establishing itself as a leader in sustainable local food systems[13] by encouraging urban farming. The City already boasts a number of farms, both for- and non-profit, and has various programs[14] in place to support local farmers. But, as is true in most old industrial cities, soil contamination is a reality[15] that must be managed to mitigate impacts on human health. The good news is that the City is also promoting simple soil best management practices[16], including amending soils with compost, that can be followed to help minimize risk factors associated with lead and other common pollutants.

Among the many benefits of composting and compost use[17] are those involving the soil[18]. Compost has the ability to filter out 60-95% of pollutants from stormwater and can immobilize and degrade contaminants already in the soil. ILSR is proud to help support the City’s healthy food growing goals by bring our NSR Master Composter training course to the Baltimore community. ILSR recently completed a report on recycling in Baltimore[19] to inform city agencies, City Council and Mayor’s Office about the immediate opportunities for increased recycling and its potential economic impact on the city. We are also working with the Baltimore Office of Sustainability to draft an Organics Recycling Strategy, which should be released in the coming weeks.

NSR participants pose after a successful bin building workshop


NSR Course Requirements: The Neighborhood Soil Rebuilders’ Master Composter course has four main requirements: attendance of all classes; implementation of a capstone project; completion of 30 hours of supported community composting service; and tracking and sharing community service hours and work completed. Participants will have six months from the last class (ending May 18th, 2017) to complete the capstone project and community service components.

For the capstone project component, participants will support or initiate a community composting project based on their interests and the needs of the community they are serving. Participants are encouraged to collaborate on supporting an existing community composting project (such as Real Food Farms[20], Filbert Street Garden[21], and other Baltimore Farm Alliance[22] member farms). Other potential projects might include building and managing compost bins at community gardens, schools, churches, or compost demonstration sites. In addition, participants will provide NSR staff with brief monthly progress updates throughout the six-month, post-class period.

For the community service component, participants will be expected to log 30 hours of community composting service. Half of these hours will be spent providing hands-on composting support to a community in need. Upon successful completion of the course requirements, participants will be eligible for receipt of a Neighborhood Soil Rebuilders’ Master Composter certificate and will be qualified to apply to future Neighborhood Soil Rebuilders Advanced Master Composter train-the-trainer apprenticeships.



  1. Composting for Community Initiative:
  2. Neighborhood Soil Rebuilders:
  3. Real Food Farm:
  4. ECO City Farms:
  5. Urban Farm Plans:
  6. Baltimore City Farms Program:
  7. Civic Works:
  8. Farm Alliance of Baltimore:
  9. Beautiful Trouble:
  10. Soilful City:
  11. Compost Cab:
  12. here:
  13. a leader in sustainable local food systems:
  14. various programs:
  15. soil contamination is a reality:
  16. simple soil best management practices:
  17. benefits of composting and compost use:
  18. the soil:
  19. report on recycling in Baltimore:
  20. Real Food Farms:
  21. Filbert Street Garden:
  22. Baltimore Farm Alliance:

Source URL:

Infographic: Compost Impacts More Than You Think

by Brenda Platt | April 19, 2017 12:00 pm

placeholderFrom healthy soils, to good local jobs, we bet you didn’t know that compost can have such an impact! So think twice before you throw away your compostable food scraps… because one person’s trash is another’s black gold. Please help us spread the word!

You can view the individual infographic sections here[1], but below is the full infographic and a variety of formats are available for download below.

All pages of the infographic are available for download individually or together:

Compost Infographic_FULL




We have also, per partnership with local allies, translated the overall infographic into both Arabic[3] and Polish[4]. If you’re interested in having it translated into your language, please email[5]

We want you to be able to share these infographics under creative commons license, free of cost.

If you’re publishing on your website, or in one of your publications, please include this sentence:
“The following comes from the Institute for Local Self-Reliance[6] ([7]), a national nonprofit organization working to strengthen local economies, and redirect waste into local recycling, composting, and reuse industries. It is reprinted here with permission.” 

Please, make sure to let people know they should link to:[8] to download the original content for their own publications. They also should include the above attribution language.

Help us continue to produce content like this. Please consider making a donation today:

Image: Donate Button[9]

Want more resources? See below for a full list of reports the help you dig even deeper.

Resources/More Information:

Compost: Impacts More Than You Think

Brenda Platt, Nora Goldstein, Craig Coker, and Sally Brown, The State of Composting in the U.S.: What, Why, Where, & How[10], Institute for Local Self-Reliance (ILSR), June 2015.

US EPA, Advancing Sustainable Materials Management: Facts and Figures 2013[11], June 2015, pp. 12, 46.

Brenda Platt, Eric Lombardi, and David Ciplet, Stop Trashing the Climate[12], Institute for Local Self-Reliance (ILSR), 2008.

Brenda Platt, Bobby Bell, and Cameron Harsh, Pay Dirt: Composting in Maryland to Reduce Waste, Create Jobs & Protect the Bay[13], Institute for Local Self-Reliance (ILSR), May 2013.

Mike Ewall, Trash Incineration Factsheet[14], Energy Justice Network web page,[15], accessed April 2016.

Composting Enhances Soil and Protects Watersheds

Bobby Bell and Brenda Platt, Building Healthy Soils with Compost to Protect Watersheds[16], Institute for Local Self-Reliance (ILSR), June 2014.

Brenda Platt, Nora Goldstein, Craig Coker, and Sally Brown, The State of Composting in the U.S.: What, Why, Where, & How[17], Institute for Local Self-Reliance (ILSR), June 2015.

“Why Build Healthy Soil?”[18] Washington Organic Recycling Council (WORC) Soils for Salmon Project[19], accessed April 2016.

United States Composting Council (USCC), “Specify and Use COMPOST for LEED & Sustainable Sites Projects: A Natural Connection”[20]

“Soil Health Key Points,”[21] Natural Resources Conservation Service, USDA, February 2013.

“Increasing Soil Organic Matter with Compost,”[22] Compost: The Sustainable Solution, US Composting Council, July 2014.

“Strive for 5%,”[23] US Composting Council’s campaign to promote 5% organic matter in soils, US Composting Council.

Composting Protects the Climate

Gunnar Myhre, Drew Shindell, et. al, Anthropogenic & Natural Radiative Forcing, Climate Change 2013: The Physical Science Basis. Contribution of Working Group I to Fifth Assessment Report of Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change[24], Cambridge University Press, 2013, p. 714.

“Can Land Management Enhance Soil Carbon Sequestration?[25]” Marin Carbon Project web site, accessed April 2016.

Rebecca Ryals and Whendee L. Silver, “Effects of organic matter amendments on net primary productivity and greenhouse gas emissions in annual grasslands,” [26]Ecological Applications (Ecological Society of America), 1 January 2013, 23:46-59. doi:10.1890/12-0620.1

Brenda Platt, Nora Goldstein, Craig Coker, and Sally Brown, The State of Composting in the U.S.: What, Why, Where, & How[27], Institute for Local Self-Reliance (ILSR), June 2015.

Brenda Platt, Eric Lombardi, and David Ciplet, Stop Trashing the Climate[12], Institute for Local Self-Reliance (ILSR), 2008.

Composting Creates Jobs

Brenda Platt, Bobby Bell, and Cameron Harsh, Pay Dirt: Composting in Maryland to Reduce Waste, Create Jobs & Protect the Bay[28], Institute for Local Self-Reliance (ILSR), May 2013.

Brenda Platt, Nora Goldstein, Craig Coker, and Sally Brown, The State of Composting in the U.S.: What, Why, Where, & How[27], Institute for Local Self-Reliance (ILSR), June 2015.

Brenda Platt and Neil Seldman, Wasting and Recycling in the United States 2000[29], Institute for Local Self-Reliance (ILSR), 2000.

  1. view the individual infographic sections here:
  2. HERE:
  3. Arabic:
  4. Polish:
  6. Institute for Local Self-Reliance:
  9. [Image]:
  10. The State of Composting in the U.S.: What, Why, Where, & How:
  11. Advancing Sustainable Materials Management: Facts and Figures 2013:
  12. Stop Trashing the Climate:
  13. Pay Dirt: Composting in Maryland to Reduce Waste, Create Jobs & Protect the Bay:
  14. Trash Incineration Factsheet:
  16. Building Healthy Soils with Compost to Protect Watersheds:
  17. The State of Composting in the U.S.: What, Why, Where, & How:
  18. “Why Build Healthy Soil?”:
  19. Soils for Salmon Project:
  20. “Specify and Use COMPOST for LEED & Sustainable Sites Projects: A Natural Connection”:
  21. “Soil Health Key Points,”:
  22. “Increasing Soil Organic Matter with Compost,”:
  23. “Strive for 5%,”:
  24. Anthropogenic & Natural Radiative Forcing, Climate Change 2013: The Physical Science Basis. Contribution of Working Group I to Fifth Assessment Report of Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change:
  25. Can Land Management Enhance Soil Carbon Sequestration?:
  26. “Effects of organic matter amendments on net primary productivity and greenhouse gas emissions in annual grasslands,” :
  27. The State of Composting in the U.S.: What, Why, Where, & How:
  28. Pay Dirt: Composting in Maryland to Reduce Waste, Create Jobs & Protect the Bay:
  29. Wasting and Recycling in the United States 2000:

Source URL:

Small Banks, Big Benefits – Episode 16 of the Building Local Power Podcast

by Nick Stumo-Langer | April 13, 2017 12:00 pm

Welcome to episode sixteen of the Building Local Power podcast[1]. For full transcript of the podcast, click here[2].

In this episode, Christopher Mitchell, the director of ILSR’s Community Broadband Networks initiative and Stacy Mitchell, the co-director of ILSR and director of ILSR’s Community-Scaled Economies initiative interview Building Local Power’s first guest outside of ILSR. Our guest this week is Justin Dahlheimer[3], the President of the First National Bank of Osakis[4] in west-central Minnesota. The trio discuss the benefits of community banking and how banks that have a vested stake in their community lend in ways that increase the vitality of communities like Osakis.

“We’ve got a stake in every customer’s personal financial livelihood. It should be that way. It’s embedded transparency. It’s accountability,” says Justin Dahlheimer[3] of the relationship community banks have with the people that they serve. “We want to weather the community risk and be able to charge off loans, not come back after customers and ruin financial lives and move on to the next thing… [We want to] work together and leverage dollars to bring more wealth into the community versus just recirculating or poaching wealth from other banks. We want to create that wealth.”


Get caught up with the latest in our community banking work by exploring the resources below:  (more…)[10]

  1. Building Local Power podcast:
  2. click here: #transcript
  3. Justin Dahlheimer:
  4. First National Bank of Osakis:
  5. [Image]:
  6. Play in new window:
  7. Download:
  8. Android:
  9. RSS:
  10. (more…):

Source URL:

Alabama Committee Kills Bill For Better Connectivity

by Lisa Gonzalez | April 10, 2017 8:00 am

When Alabama State Sen. Tom Whatley from Auburn spoke with OANow in late March[1], he described his bill, SB 228[2], as a “go-to-war bill.” The bill would have allowed Opelika Power Services (OPS) to expand its Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) services to his community. On Wednesday, April 5th, his colleagues in the Senate Transportation and Energy Committee[3] decided to end the conflict in favor of AT&T and its army of lobbyists.

The final vote, according to the committee legislative assistant, was 7 – 6 against the bill. She described the vote as bipartisan, although the roll call isn’t posted yet, so we have not been able to confirm.

According to Whatley:

“AT&T has hired 26 lobbyists to work against me on that bill. It really aggravates me because I have boiled one bill down to where it only allows Opelika to go into Lee County. It cuts out the other counties.”

Whatley has introduced several bills this session and in previous legislative sessions[4] to allow OPS to expand beyond the state imposed barriers to offer services in Lee County. Alabama law doesn’t allow OPS, or any other municipal provider, to offer advanced telecommunications services outside city limits. SB 228 would allow Opelika and others (described as a “Class 6 municipalities”) to offer services throughout the counties in which they reside. A companion bill in the House, HB 375[5], is sitting in the House Commerce and Small Business Committee.

Rep. Joe Lovvorn, who introduced HB 375 agrees with Whatley:

“If it doesn’t make sense for a large corporation to go there, that’s OK that’s their choice,” he said. “But they don’t have the right to tell, in my opinion with my bill, the city of Opelika they can’t serve them either.”

AT&T’s lobbyists aren’t the only big money opponents facing off with Whatley. The Taxpayer’s Protection Alliance (TPA), one of the many organizations backed by billionaire Koch brothers[6], has popped up in Alabama to help the national telecom. Per its usual modus operandi, TPA has published several opinion pieces in the local news to spread misinformation.

A Mayor’s Work Is Never Done

opelika-seal.pngMayor Gary Fuller of Opelika has stayed on task. We profiled one of his op-eds[7] in early March, in which he corrected the many errors and lies spread by an article about another sloppy TPA report.

In a more recent piece in OANow[8], Mayor Fuller tells the story of how Opelika came to own and operate[9] the public’s gigabit FTTH network. In a thoughtful and logical article, he explains how the community became a reluctant provider due to lack of investment and poor service from the monopoly cable provider. He describes a community that took control of their own destiny rather than taking it on the chin from one of the companies that write checks for the TPA.

And, once again, Mayor Fuller addresses the misinformation spread by the TPA about how the network was funded, how much it cost, and how it has impacted the community. He counters unproven statements with facts and supplies the numbers to back them up.

Mayor Fuller describes how Opelika’s investment has injected the community with job growth, better response from area private providers, and the kind of connectivity the town needs to stay competitive. The city’s bond rating has risen. the economy is expanding, and finances are looking good. Clearly, the investment in fiber infrastructure investment was a good decision.

When it comes to recognizing what Sen. Whatley, Rep. Levvorn, and their constituents are up against at the State Capitol, says Mayor Fuller:

For nearly two decades, AT&T, Comcast, Time Warner Cable and Charter Communications have spent millions of dollars to lobby state legislatures, influence elections and buy research to stop the spread of public Internet services that often offer faster speeds and cheaper rates. These companies have succeeded in getting laws passed in 20 states that ban or restrict municipalities from offering Internet to residents.

Now that such laws are in place, elected officials need to step up and fix a system that prevents municipal networks from expanding to neighbors who want and need service from communities willing to help them, like Opelika. Destroying bills in committee to protect incumbents is not a good way to start.

The Committee Process And Lack Of Access To Democracy

In Alabama, as in most states, the state legislature reviews proposals via the committee process. Bills like SB 228 can be killed in committee or pass through to be taken up by the full body, then the House, and eventually the Governor. Committee hearings are a key component to the democratic process.

gavel.pngIn the Alabama State Senate, there are two rooms where committee meetings occur that enable audio live streaming. If a committee chair feels the bills they will discuss should be livestreamed, the committee will meet in either room 727 or 807. If Alabamans want to witness their Senators engage in the process of democracy at the committee level and are not able to watch the livestream or are interested in viewing some other bill discussion, they need to make the journey to Montgomery and attend a committee hearing in person.

We contacted the folks at Legislative Audio and Video Service who told us that there is “no technology in the legislature to archive any audio or video files. Nor is there any transcription service.” Consequently, we were not able to review the hearing to determine what was said or by whom at the time we published this story.

[10]As we attempt to follow the development of bills in different states, we see the wide spectrum of access to democracy at the state level. In some places hearings are routinely livestreamed and archived, either video or audio, which should be the normal practice in every state. Constituents should be able to know what their elected officials say at committee meetings and how they vote on specific measures. Not all Representatives or Senators make speeches during chamber debate and if a decision is made on a voice vote, a citizen may never know if their elected official is representing their interests or the interests of lobbyists like AT&T, Comcast, or the billionaire Koch Brothers.

There are decisions made in Montgomery that affect people across the state and many don’t have the opportunity to go to the Capitol to be physically present for committee meetings. People in Alabama have responsibilities and committee schedules are unpredictable. Even if they make the long trek to the Capitol, they may find that a bill they want to see discussed in a hearing has been rescheduled to another day – a wasted trip.

Alabamans should, at the very least, have the opportunity to read a transcript after the fact to know what went on in committee about issues they care about. In 2017, however, recording and archiving committee meetings so voters know what they’re getting from elected officials is a small ask in a democratic society.

This article was originally published on ILSR’s[11]. Read the original here[12].

  1. spoke with OANow in late March:
  2. SB 228:
  3. Senate Transportation and Energy Committee:
  4. and in previous legislative sessions:
  5. HB 375:
  6. many organizations backed by billionaire Koch brothers:
  7. We profiled one of his op-eds:
  8. more recent piece in OANow:
  9. came to own and operate:
  10. [Image]:
  12. here:

Source URL:

Thanks To Your Local Economy, Renewables Aren’t Going Anywhere – Episode 15 of the Building Local Power Podcast

by Nick Stumo-Langer | April 6, 2017 12:00 pm

Welcome to episode fifteen of the Building Local Power podcast[1]. For full transcript of the podcast, click here[2].

In this episode, Christopher Mitchell, the director of ILSR’s Community Broadband Networks initiative, interviews John Farrell[3] and Karlee Weinmann[4], researchers for ILSR’s Energy Democracy initiative on the prospects of renewable energy given President Trump’s executive orders undermining the Clean Power Plan. The group discusses how the strong market for renewable energy will endure any federal level interferences,

This discussion also features the (virtual) ghost of Ken Bone to shift the discussion how the accelerating push to renewables will work on a local level where individual fossil fuel power plants are dominant.

“A lot of that growth [around renewables] is rooted in state policies that support it and encourage it and not necessarily in any action that happens or doesn’t happen at the federal level,” says Karlee Weinmann of the shift in federal energy policy away from renewables and towards fossil fuels.


Here is the piece on the red sweater-clad Ken Bone and his energy question at the second presidential debate during the 2016 election:

A Deep Dive to Answer Ken Bone’s Energy Question[10]

Here are the reading/watching recommendations from the group this week.

From John:


From Chris & Karlee:

View the full transcript of the podcast, below.If you missed our previous episodes make sure to bookmark our Building Local Power [12]Podcast Homepage[13]. Please give us a review and rating on iTunes or wherever you subscribe to podcasts.

Full Transcript of Podcast:

Chris Mitchell: John, I hear that you’ve been thinking about where our energy has come from recently.
John Farrell: I haven’t just been thinking about it recently, Chris. In the last decade it is remarkable to note that over 40% of our new power plant capacity and increasingly more of that is coming from renewable energy sources alone and the remainder of that is pretty much coming from natural gas. In other words, there’s almost no new coal power plants being built in this country, in the last decade.
Chris Mitchell: Also no nuclear power plants or other facilities.
John Farrell: There hasn’t been a new nuclear plant built in a long time and the only one that’s under construction in Georgia, continues to experience construction delays, increasing its cost.
Chris Mitchell: The other thing that came to mind when you said that, was that in the last decade was entirely after the year 2000, which still I find amazing.
John Farrell: Yes, in fact it’s not even that close to the year 2000 anymore.
Chris Mitchell: It really isn’t. Welcome to another Building Local Power podcast from the Institute for Local Self-Reliance. We’re going to talk about clean power today and the Clean Power Plan from the Obama administration that the Trump administration has just wiped out and whether we should freak out or celebrate or how we should react in general to this monumental, monumental change in policy. Is that right John?
John Farrell: It is a big change in policy but I think that it would be important to note that we should all take a deep breath before we consider the implications of this.
Chris Mitchell: There’s nothing better than a podcast that talks about taking a deep breath. That was John Farrell, who runs our energy work. I’m Chris Mitchell and also Karlee Weinmann, who is here with a bemused look on her face and does all the work that John takes credit for. Welcome back Karlee.
Karlee Weinmann: Hi, Chris.
Chris Mitchell: It’s great to have old podcast veterans back on Building Local Power. Let’s just take a quick step back and talk about what was the Clean Power Plan from the Obama administration, in brief?
John Farrell: It was really just a set of rules that would guide states on the course to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from power plants. It was going to particularly affect states that had a lot of coal power plants that were disproportionately putting a lot of greenhouse gas emissions into the air and was going to require them to come up with a plan and the next thing was that the state was able to choose what that plan was but they would have to hit a certain target for emissions reductions.

When I said at the beginning, “We need to take a deep breath about what’s happening here.” That’s for two reasons. One is that because it was a fairly complex rule there’s a process for walking it back. I heard one commentator on the radio say, “Creating the rules was like walking up a set of stairs and undoing them means you have to walk down the same set of stairs.” Changes in the rules will take some time.

The second thing is that for states that were agreeable to the Clean Power Plan, which is to say they wanted to do something anyway, they’re going to go ahead and find ways to implement those rules or find other ways of meeting those greenhouse gas emissions regardless.

I think we have two hopeful elements here. One is that it will take a while to undo this and the other is that many states will move ahead, whether or not the federal government is continuing to compel them to do so.

Chris Mitchell: Karlee, I just want to ask you a question, as someone who came to us as a reporter covering a lot of business. I think of you as somebody who knows a lot about markets. It strikes me that all of this change in policy, the market isn’t sort of thinking, “Oh, carbon is free in the future.” It seems like in many ways, not much has changed.
Karlee Weinmann: Utilities are increasingly moving toward clean energy and they have been for a long time, based on the economics. It’s not like the Clean Power Plan upended the marketplace and as John said, it’s not like this decision by President Trump will upend the marketplace.

Fracking is, I think, a great and instructive example of this. Certainly that compounded the shift away from coal and that had nothing to do with the policy that we’re talking about here today. The bottom line is that nothing is going to save coal from these economics. Even if natural gas gets more expensive, renewables remain on a trajectory that makes them increasingly accessible and attractive.

Chris Mitchell: Well that’s, I think, a good sign. It’s also a sign, I just sort of wonder a little bit about the hype on both sides. To be glib, investors are smarter than voters and I don’t think investors have a sense like, “Hey, let’s go build three coal power plants now.”
John Farrell: You know it’s funny you should say that Chris, because one of the tools that Karlee and I use, and many others in our field, is analysis done by the investment bank, Lazard, at least I think that’s the name. They do this every year and it compares the cost of energy from different power plants. What you can see in their most recent one, which is like version 10 of their analysis, is essentially that renewable energy is the cheapest form of electricity across the board. That solar and wind and of course, things like energy efficiency, are cheaper than any other kind of power plant you can build. Whether it’s a nuclear one, a coal one or a natural gas one.

When Karlee’s talking about the economics being in the driver’s seat here, in the wake of the Clean Power Plan or it’s reversal, like you said, the folks informing the investors, the investment banks, are essentially saying put your money in renewables. That’s the cheap stuff.

Chris Mitchell: It strikes me, from the stat you brought from the beginning, 40% of energy gains over the last 10 years, coming from these renewable energies, this clean energy. Maybe I’m stuck in thinking about this from a 20 year ago perspective, which was like people were saying, “Oh, sure solar’s doubling but it’s a fraction of a fraction. It doesn’t matter, it’s not adding up.” It seems like it’s adding up now.
John Farrell: Yeah, it is. In fact, if you look on our website and Karlee’s updating every quarter our analysis of new power plant capacity, you can see that this chart went from being almost all purple and black, which was representing fossil fuels, to this big, bright, band of blue, which represents wind power, which has been most of that new capacity.

In the past couple, three, four years, all of a sudden there are these big bars of orange and red, which represent large-scale and small-scale solar. It is really adding up. Although, on an annual basis, the amount of total energy, electricity that we get from that is still relatively small, it’s growing very quickly. It shows up first in these charts around capacity, in the next couple of years we’ll start to see that in terms of how much energy we get on an annual basis.

Karlee Weinmann: A lot of that growth is rooted in state policies that support it and encourage it and not necessarily in any action that happens or doesn’t happen at the federal level. I think that just goes to show that where we’re really seeing movement, in terms of policy, that advances or inhibits growth in renewables and clean energy, that’s not happening at the federal level per se.
Chris Mitchell: When you say it’s at the state level, I’m curious, I immediately start thinking, “Oh, well probably like California and blue states.” But then I remember Texas and even Iowa, I’m not really sure what color Iowa is anymore, yellow for corn maybe. I’m curious what states in particular have really been driving this. I’m guessing it’s not all states.
John Farrell: No, it’s not all states but there’s no question there is some partisan lean to the states that are driving a lot of this. California, for example, happens to be a very deep blue state but it also happens to be a state that has a really good renewable energy resource. In fact, I would say that in some ways it’s even more powerful of a driver.

You take Iowa, for example, regardless of its politics, it has an incredible wind resource and in fact, the policy that got its wind industry started expired 10 or 20 years ago. All of the development in wind power in Iowa, which is one of the nation’s leaders on a per capita basis, is because wind simply is a really cheap resource for supplying electricity needs because wind blows a lot in Iowa.

On the other hand, you have states like Minnesota or Colorado or California or New York, where we’ve enacted policies that are pushing utilities toward renewables. Of course the analysis shows, in retrospect, that that was a very cost-effective choice. You’re also seeing advances in places like Arizona or Nevada or Texas, where it’s not really policy driven, it’s just economics.

In West Texas you have tens of thousands of megawatts of wind power, because it’s a very good wind resource but increasingly solar. Excellent solar resource in Arizona and Nevada and New Mexico, driving a lot of solar adoption there.

Chris Mitchell: One last thing on this area and the economics, is you mention that it’s a good bet to force utilities to go with the renewables. Now in the past you and I have talked a lot about what was the best way of subsidizing these forms of power, feed-in tariff, production tax credit, the problems associated with some of these. Are these things unnecessary now?
John Farrell: I don’t think it’s unnecessary to still have policy that is helping toward the transition toward renewable energy. What I would say, is that that kinds of policy we need are different. Whereas a decade ago it was really important to sort of throw money at it, to get the industry built up, to build the manufacturing experience, to get the supply chains developed, to get people trained in and employed and build all of that part of the installation and manufacturing process.

What I think has happened now is that we need to figure out ways to maintain competitive markets. For example, a 1978 federal law called PURPA, has required utilities to buy electricity from competitive sources ever since the late 1970’s. It came out of the oil crisis and the desire to find more economical power sources. Well that law is still enforced in all 50 states, requiring us to look at economical sources and utilities, now that they are facing competition from renewable energy resources produced by non-utility participants, are saying, “Hey, we want to get rid of that law.”

There are still ways in which the entrenched interests, whether it’s monopoly utility companies, or the fossil fuel industry, are trying to push back against renewables and we need to hold firm on market access on the basis of cost competitiveness.

Chris Mitchell: One last thing before we get to our surprise call in guest, which is a quote from the past. I wanted to note that I was listening to Charlie Sykes’ last week. He has a show on Indivisible, which is a joint production of, I think, Minnesota Public Radio, WNYC and others. It’s the first 100 days of the Trump presidency, talk radio. Charlie Sykes is a conservative talk show host who is from Wisconsin.

He’s a very interesting guy. He was making the case that he felt like the Clean Power Plan would have been really bad for Wisconsin. It would have cost, in his words I think, billions of dollars in extra costs to rate payers and would have been therefore bad to business. I’m just curious how you would respond to that. I think it looks like Karlee is all ready to offer some context.

Karlee Weinmann: I think it’s fair to say that in some states like Wisconsin utilities might have made poor bets on infrastructure like coal plants in the past but now it’s up to regulators to hold them accountable and part of that is the Clean Power Standards, that may or may not be imposed by the federal government, but part of that is holding utilities to sensible, responsible economics like the kind John has been talking about. It can cause rate payers a lot of money, as well, to stay the course that we’ve seen from these, maybe more short-sighted utilities, in the past.
John Farrell: I would just like to add to that. There’s a couple more factors here. One in terms of cost is that the health and environmental costs of our power system has always been socialized. You have private profits for utilities building these power plants and then socializing the costs, the health and environmental costs.
Chris Mitchell: Could you just explain a couple of those?
John Farrell: Yeah, for example, mercury pollution from coal power plants in particular, gets into lakes and streams and waters, gets consumed by fish or absorbed by fish and then raises the toxicity to the level that we can’t eat fish anymore, particularly vulnerable populations like children and pregnant women.
Chris Mitchell: Right, they only get it like once a week or something like that.
John Farrell: Exactly. That’s been one of the costs that we’ve had and certainly not one that we pay for on our utility bills. The second thing I would say though too, and this is a bit of a criticism of the Clean Power Plan is that as an administrative rule, and it really is the only way that Obama had to implement it because he didn’t have a Congress willing to work with him, and coming from the top down at the federal level, it really just applies sort of brute force to utilities to make them change the way that they’re doing business.

A lot of the economical opportunities that we have for renewables, though, aren’t from the utilities. They’re from the bottom up. They’re from consumers putting solar on their own households. They’re from community solar, like we have in Minnesota or New York or Maryland. They’re from distributed energy production that could use that 1978 PURPA law to sell power competitively to the utility company.

I think one of the potential costs that, I don’t know if this is what Charlie Sykes was getting to or not, but I think one of the potential problems with the Clean Power Plan was the fact that this top down kind of bureaucratic solution would have made it difficult for some of those things to come to market that might be much more cost-effective than asking utilities to turn the ship.

Chris Mitchell: With that, we want to take a call that comes direct to us from the Town Hall debate between presidential candidate Clinton and presidential candidate Trump. Ken Bone, I think you’re on the line. What did you want to ask?
Ken Bone: What steps will your energy policy take to meet our energy needs while at the same time remaining environmentally friendly and minimizing job loss for fossil power plant workers?
Chris Mitchell: Candidate John, tell us what your plan would include.
John Farrell: First of all, I just want to point out that Ken Bone got picked on a lot in the media or highlighted in the media for the fact that he had a bright red sweater and then a whole bunch of other stuff went on. It was really one of the most intelligent questions that we’ve had about energy policy in a long time.
Chris Mitchell: I think that’s probably why he got picked on. I mean, honestly, I just don’t see our media being able to really deal with those sorts of intelligent, layered questions, which aren’t sort of red meat for one side or the other.
John Farrell: Right and that’s true. There wasn’t a lot of red meat for either side in this particular question. It was a very well-nuanced one. I think the most important part of his questions really was around this notion of both environmentally friendly energy and then what happens with fossil fuel power plant workers.

There is a recognition in that question that we are moving away from fossil fuels. Despite that, you see in the recent news here about the Clean Power Plan, this assumption that we’re going to somehow roll back these regulations and it’s going to allow these, in particularly, coal mining and coal jobs to come back.

The truth is, in the last 50 years, employment in the coal mining sector has dropped by about two-thirds even as production has more than doubled. That has nothing to do with renewable energy because there weren’t renewables on the system in the sixties and seventies and eighties and even the early nineties.

Chris Mitchell: It’s Wyoming’s fault actually, with the Powder River Basin coal and the coal from out west and the mountaintop removal coal. It’s all highly capital now.
John Farrell: Right. Unfortunately that’s something that candidate and then President Trump has not been really interested in getting into the nuance of. He’s really exploiting the job losses from automation in the coal mining sector in order to unpack and destroy these environmental regulations.

I think the crux of this then, is that in the same way that some people say well the Stone Age didn’t end because we ran out of stones, that the Coal Age is going to end, not because we run out of coal but because we have cheaper ways to produce our energy than we did before.

Ultimately, the issue here is, what is that we can do? What is a reasonable approach to our energy system that accomplishes these goals of environmental sensitivity, meeting our energy needs and respecting fossil fuel power plant workers and fossil fuel workers? The Clean Power Plan reversal does none of these things. It doesn’t mean that we will get environmentally friendly energy, in fact it undermines a regulation in favor of it. It doesn’t really help us, in terms of cost-effective energy either.

In fact, the biggest winners being talked about in the news here are coal mining companies, which will be able to sell more coal to existing power plants perhaps, at the expense of the workers for whom often end up being on the losing end of bankruptcy filings, for example, where they lose their pensions and their healthcare and everything else.

What can we do? There were a number of things that we actually outlined, that we wrote about on our website, in light of Ken Bone’s question at the debate and there were a couple of things. One is, as I have said earlier, reinforcing the access for renewable energy to the market.

Number two is figuring out how we can retrain people from the fossil fuel sector to work in those jobs and to make sure those are good jobs. Whether that’s helping unions organize in that area, like they have the fossil fuel industry, whether that’s coal mining jobs or power plant jobs or just making sure that we have a way to transition folks into those jobs that are generally good paying.

The third thing is we just have to admit that the fossil fuel jobs are going away. There’s nothing that we can do, from a federal regulation perspective, other than maybe something like Wyoming tried to do recently, which was to pass a law prohibiting utilities from building renewable energy power plants. It would be incredibly expensive and have all these adverse, societal effects from pollution and on down. It might keep them working for at least a little bit longer. Maybe, except that as the cost of energy went up from the utility company, people are going to put solar on their rooftop and stop buying it from the utilities.

There’s really no saving those jobs. How do we have a just transition? How do we help those folks?

Chris Mitchell: I feel like I often hear people talking about job retraining. We’ve heard about this from NAFTA. We’ve heard about this from TPP and trade agreements. People always talk about how the people who end up losing their jobs can just get new jobs. It seems like when you actually look at those programs, they’re hard to pull off. What do we have to do to actually make sure they’re going to work in this instance?
John Farrell: Well, we give a little bit more detail in the posts that we produced in response to Ken’s question.
Chris Mitchell: Which I believe was a deep-dive to answer Ken Bone’s energy question at the Institute for Local Self-Reliance’s webpage on
John Farrell: Yes, thank you Chris. I think that what’s a key here to understand is that retraining is just one piece of this. We need wage insurance, which means insuring the folks that are in these jobs can maintain their current wages for a set period of time. Maybe at least five years so there is a reasonable period of transition.

The second one is that we have that retraining assistance but it might also include relocation assistance because it may be that the jobs for renewable energy are not in Appalachia like the jobs were for coal mining or for working in a power plant.

A similar issue actually came up recently in Minnesota about the potential closure of a coal power plant in Becker, a small rural community. Another thing that we have to consider too is not just the outcome for these workers but the outcome for the communities. These big power plants are a sizeable portion of a community’s property tax revenue and a sizeable presence in the community. What can we do for those communities?

In Minnesota, we had a bill passed that said we’ll build a new power plant there to replace that. It’s a billion dollar rate payer subsidy for a town of 2,000 people in order to maintain that town’s character. There are probably less expensive ways we can do that. We outline a couple of them in our research. It comes from some very good, very thorough work done by the American Prospect.

Karlee Weinmann: There are a number of these workers, a fairly large proportion, that are going to be hitting retirement age before we really need to be all in on this transition. It’s not necessarily going to be a one to one, we need to find a new job and a solution for every single worker and while I acknowledge that a just transition is of paramount importance, this is and has been a shrinking industry for a long time. That evolution in the fossil fuel industry is I think important to remember in this context.
Chris Mitchell: Right, actually it just strikes me whenever I hear people talk about how great these jobs are, that one of the things I always remember in growing up in Eastern Pennsylvania, I didn’t know any miners certainly, but there was always this sense that people worked hard, dirty jobs, not because they loved it and it was awesome but because they wanted to make sure their kids had a good education and had all the opportunities that they didn’t have. They could go on and not spend their life working in a job, which was unsafe in many cases. I think it’s an important context to bear in mind.

I wanted to end with a question of hope, which is we talk around the office a lot about whether things are heading in a direction that’s one of despair or not. I’m curious, when you look at this, and we’ve elected someone that I think no one in this office supports as president, who’s doing a lot of damage to the things that we care about and yet it seems to me like it’s actually maybe he can’t do that much damage because we have local leadership and that sort of thing. I’m just curious what you take away from it Karlee?

Karlee Weinmann: I would say that I take a lot of heart in the local leadership that we have and in many communities around the country since November. With regard to these clean energy issues, I think we’ve seen a tremendous willingness on behalf of local leaders to take ownership of this issue and to really make it their own in way that maybe they weren’t as active about before November. But now, especially in light of the recent actions regarding the Clean Power Plan, I think that there is a new kind of emphasis that really opens the door to local action that can really deliver the most meaningful results here.
Chris Mitchell: Do we have any recommendations for people to check out for reading or listening or viewing or anything like that.
John Farrell: There was a really remarkable piece recently published by The New York Times on Uber, looking at its business model and the tension between the company’s interest and the driver’s interest. They had some interactive features that allowed you to kind of play around with what would happen if there were more drivers or less drivers. It’s a really stunning revelation of what the sharing economy is about and whether or not Uber is really good for the people who are working for it, whether or not they’re employees or not. I highly recommend it as a good way to get some insight on that.
Chris Mitchell: I’d like to suggest a recommendation from Karlee and I, which is the video that you recommended we watch. Do you remember the name of it? The one hour presentation about the electric vehicles and driving.
John Farrell: Oh yes. It’s Tony Seba did a presentation. He’s an author of a book called Clean Disruption. I don’t recall the exact title of the Youtube video from 2016 for the presentation he gave but it is a remarkable look at the way that the clean energy economy will be changing thanks to Silicon Valley technology over the next decade.
Chris Mitchell: Great. Thank you both.
John Farrell: Yeah, thanks Chris.
Karlee Weinmann: Thanks Chris.
Lisa Gonzalez: That was John Farrell and Karlee Weinmann joining Christopher Mitchell for episode 15 of the Building Local Power Podcast. John and Karlee work on our Energy Democracy Initiative and Christopher heads up the Community Broadband Networks Initiative. Check out John and Karlee’s work at
Chris Mitchell: Hey everyone. Please tell your friends, tell others who might be interested about this show. If you have a chance to rate us on iTunes please do. Several people already have. We really appreciate all of the comments and we really appreciate you taking the time to listen to us.
Lisa Gonzalez: We also encourage you to subscribe to this podcast and all of our other podcasts on iTunes, Stitcher or wherever else you get your podcasts. You can also sign up for our monthly newsletter at Thanks to Dysfunction Al for the music licensed through Creative Commons, the song is Funk Interlude. This is Lisa Gonzalez from the Institute for Local Self-Reliance. Thanks again for listening to episode 15 of the Building Local Power podcast.

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Audio Credit: Funk Interlude[14] by Dysfunction_AL Ft: Fourstones – Scomber (Bonus Track). Copyright 2016 Licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution Noncommercial (3.0)[15] license.

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Infographic: The Market for Internet Access Is Broken

by Lisa Gonzalez | April 5, 2017 6:00 am

“Monopoly” may be a fun family night activity, but if you live in a place where you have little or no choice for Internet access, it’s not fun and it’s not a game.

According to FCC data, most families don’t have a choice in Internet access providers, especially providers they like. Nevertheless, the biggest companies keep reporting increasing revenues every year. People aren’t happy with the service they’re receiving, but companies like AT&T and Comcast continue to thrive. What’s going on?

In a recent State Scoop piece[1], Christopher wrote:

[T]he market is not providing a check to AT&T or Comcast power. They are effectively monopolies — and as we just saw — can translate their market power into political power to wipe out regulations they find annoying.

At the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, where we work to support local economies, this broken market is a major problem. Cable monopolies are bad for local businesses, which become less competitive from paying too much for unreliable Internet access. Communities cannot thrive without high quality Internet access today.

We created this infographic to present the evidence showing that the market is broken. This resource also discusses why creating more competition in the current market is such a challenge. An effective way to overcome this broken market, however, is to consider what hundreds of local communities are already doing – investing in publicly owned Internet infrastructure. Our infographic offers a few examples of different models, each chosen to suit the communities they serve.

Get a larger version of the infographic here[2].


Get a larger version of the infographic here[2].

Kudos to intern Kate Svitavsky who created the infographic.

Stay up to date on community networks with our newsletter[4].

This article was originally published on ILSR’s[5]. Read the original here[6].

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Local Governments Are Increasingly Buying from Amazon. Here’s Why They Need to Stop.

by Olivia LaVecchia | April 4, 2017 3:02 pm


Download this article as a PDF[2] that you can print and share with your local officials, and head to the end to see 5 things you can do right now.

Photo: Downtown Hamilton, Mont.[3]

Downtown Hamilton, Mont. Jimmy Emerson/Flickr

When Shawn Wathen decided to see how much his county was spending on purchases from Amazon, he wasn’t sure what he would find.

Wathen co-owns an independent bookstore, Chapter One, in Hamilton, Mont., a 4,500-person town nestled in the Bitterroot Mountains an hour south of Missoula. Wathen has seen a lot of stores come and go from downtown Hamilton in recent years, but Chapter One has kept on, along with the local newspaper and the office supply store, the toy store and the drug store, that are the bookstore’s neighbors on the same block of Main Street.

Amazon doesn’t have a physical presence near the town — no warehouse for storing goods and packing boxes, no sortation center or delivery station or one of its new brick-and-mortar bookstores — or, in fact, anywhere in Montana, but Wathen’s been increasingly impacted by its growth in recent years. After reading the Institute for Local Self-Reliance’s recent report on the company[4], and talking about it with the Hamilton Downtown Association, Wathen started wondering if his local officials were buying from Amazon for any county purchases. He got in touch with the Ravalli County treasurer to find out.

After some back-and-forth with the county, and teaming up with another business to pay the $120 records fee, Wathen got back a report. Between reams of paper and ink cartridges, a handful of books and miscellaneous items like picture frames, Ravalli County had spent $15,500 purchasing goods from Amazon in 2016. Residents in the county have worked to stop chain retail proliferation for years, including successful campaigns to block two separate Walmart developments, but meanwhile, Amazon had snuck in under their noses.

It felt “a little bit like betrayal,” says Wathen. Wathen’s been at Chapter One for 21 years, starting out as an employee and later buying the business. He and his co-owner work at the store full-time; they pay property taxes, serve on local associations, host author readings, and organize book clubs and literature seminars. Chapter One is a small business, but in 2016, the bookstore gave $8,000 in discounts and direct donations to organizations in the county, including three school districts.

Photo: Shawn Wathen at Chapter One Book Store in Hamilton, Mont.[5]

Shawn Wathen at Chapter One Book Store in Hamilton, Mont. Photo courtesy Shawn Wathen.

Ravalli County’s spending with Amazon isn’t an outlier. In February, U.S. Communities, a purchasing cooperative that negotiates office and school supply contracts for more than 90,000 public agencies across the country, announced[6] that it had awarded Amazon Business a multiyear contract for 10 different product categories, including office supplies, classroom and art supplies, musical instruments, audio visual and electronics, and scientific equipment and lab supplies. In coming months, the public agencies that are members of U.S. Communities will be deciding whether or not to sign onto the contract. These agencies include everyone from major city governments like Boston and Minneapolis, to school districts, townships, libraries, fire departments, and sewer districts. In its Request for Proposals, U.S. Communities estimated the overall value of the contract to be $500 million per year.

While U.S. Communities described the contract as “competitively solicited, evaluated, and awarded,” independent business owners quickly disagreed. “The way the U.S. Communities bid was written proves yet again how the system continues to be rigged against open and fair competition,” the National Office Products Alliance, the trade association for independent office supply dealers, described[7] in a statement. “In order to bid on the U.S. Communities contract, a bidder had to bid on all nine categories,” which included not just office supplies, but also grocery, clothing, animal supplies, and more. “These requirements made it impossible for anyone other than Amazon to bid on this contract.” (more…)[8]

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Anticompetitive Conditions Are Impacting Independent Businesses, Says Letter to Sen. Klobuchar

by Olivia LaVecchia | April 4, 2017 2:31 pm

In today’s highly concentrated markets, the ability of dominant companies to exclude and impede businesses from competing has become one of the most pressing issues facing independent businesses.

On the heels of a recent speech[1] about the need for more vigorous antitrust enforcement by Sen. Amy Klobuchar, the ranking member of the U.S. Senate’s Antitrust Subcommittee, Advocates for Independent Business[2] (AIB) has sent Sen. Klobuchar a letter commending her call for action and sharing information about the experiences of AIB’s member businesses. AIB is a coalition of national trade associations representing tens of thousands of independent businesses across a variety of industries, and is coordinated by the Institute for Local Self-Reliance.

The letter looks at how independent businesses are being negatively impacted by anticompetitive behavior by dominant companies, including by the rise of platform power as a new form of market power that limits businesses’ ability to reach the market; by high levels of vertical integration that allow dominant companies to use their power in one part of the supply chain to impede competition in another; and by concentration in markets for essential services, like credit card processing, which allows dominant suppliers to charge excessive fees.

What’s at stake, the letter notes, is job growth, a healthy middle class, and the entrepreneurial aspirations of Americans: (more…)[3]

  1. recent speech:
  2. Advocates for Independent Business:
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Hierarchy to Reduce Food Waste & Grow Community

by Brenda Platt | April 4, 2017 12:00 pm


Different versions are available for download:

11″x 17″ Poster[2] | 13″x 19″ Portrait[3] | 18″x 24″ Portrait[4] | 19″x 13″ Poster[5] | 24″x 18″ Poster[6] | US Letter Portrait[7] | US Letter Poster[8]

We’ve developed this Hierarchy to Reduce Waste & Grow Community[9] in order to highlight the importance of locally based composting solutions as a first priority over large-scale regional solutions. Composting can be small scale and large scale and everything in between but too often home composting, onsite composting, community scale composting, and on-farm composting are overlooked. Anaerobic digestion systems come in different sizes as well. This new hierarchy addresses issues of scale and community benefits when considering what strategies and infrastructure to pursue for food waste reduction and recovery.

The US Environmental Protection Agency has long been a strong advocate of food waste recovery. Its Food Waste Reduction Hierarchy[10] has been widely disseminated and even written into local law.  Vermont’s Universal Recycling Law[11], for instance, has made it the policy of that state. More recently, in 2015, EPA joined with the US Department of Agriculture, in establishing the first ever domestic goal to reduce food loss and waste by half by the year 2030[12]. The agency’s hierarchy remains an important guideline for how this goal is to be met: prevent food waste, feed hungry people, feed animals, and recover via industrial uses and anaerobic digestion. However, in the EPA’s hierarchy, composting is listed just before disposal via landfilling and incineration. We believe size matters.

ILSR supports the development of a diverse and distributed food waste reduction and recovery infrastructure. We hope local and state governments will consider using our hierarchy as a policy framework. We welcome comments and suggestions.

Hierarchy to Reduce Food Waste and Grow Community from Nick Stumo-Langer[13]
Download the original PowerPoint presentation of the above slides here: ILSR Food Waste Hierarchy PowerPoint[14].

Download a pdf of the Hierarchy to Reduce Waste & Grow Community: ILSR Food Waste Hierarchy v2[15].


Share our gif here:[17].

We want you to be able to share this graphic under creative commons license, free of cost. But please, make sure to let people know they should link to:[18] to see the original content.

If you’re publishing on your website, or in one of your publications, please include this sentence:

“The following comes from the Institute for Local Self-Reliance[19] ([20]), a national nonprofit organization working to strengthen local economies, and redirect waste into local recycling, composting, and reuse industries. It is reprinted here with permission.” 

Follow the Institute for Local Self-Reliance on Twitter[21] and Facebook[22] and, for monthly updates on our work, sign-up[23] for our ILSR general newsletter.

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  9. Hierarchy to Reduce Waste & Grow Community:
  10. Food Waste Reduction Hierarchy:
  11. Vermont’s Universal Recycling Law:
  12. goal to reduce food loss and waste by half by the year 2030:
  13. Nick Stumo-Langer: //
  14. ILSR Food Waste Hierarchy PowerPoint:
  15. ILSR Food Waste Hierarchy v2:
  16. [Image]:
  19. Institute for Local Self-Reliance:
  21. Twitter:
  22. Facebook:
  23. sign-up:

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Report: Why Should Baltimore Recycle More?

by Neil Seldman | April 3, 2017 7:45 am

Download the Full Report

The report was prepared to inform city agencies, City Council and Mayor’s Office about the immediate opportunities for increased recycling and its potential economic impact on the city. The Office of Sustainability, Department of Planning and the Department of Public Works were all generous with their data and insights in helping prepare the report. ILSR also relied on input from environmental organizations and recycling and composting businesses. What follows is the introduction of the report, the full report is available for download here.

There are two primary reasons why Baltimore should invest in more recycling. Establishing high recycling levels will position the city’s residents and businesses for the future, when the costs of incineration and landfill will be more expensive. The city could save citizens and businesses hundreds of millions of dollars by shrinking its waste stream for the next generation.

More immediately, increased recycling means more jobs. Within three years, based on the experiences of other cities, Baltimore could have 500 new direct jobs in this sector of the city’s economy. In general, for every 10,000 tons of materials incinerated, one job is created. For every 10,000 tons of materials processed for recycling and composting, five to 10 jobs are created. Hundreds more jobs are created when processed materials are used in industry and agriculture. Oakland, CA created 1,000 jobs in the recycling sector in the last 10 years. Based on the results of a recent business report on recycling and jobs in South Carolina, if just one percent of Baltimore residents recycled eight more newspapers per month, it would add $304,000 to the local economy.

Expanding Recycling in Baltimore

Mayor Pugh’s Transition Report identifies solid waste and recycling management as a top priority, calling for the doubling of the city’s recycling rate within one year as a primary strategy to eliminate the use of the downtown garbage incinerator and landfills.

The net cost to the city for incineration at the Wheelabrator Baltimore incinerator is $50 per ton. The net cost to the city for recycling as of March 2017 was $18 per ton. For every ton the city recycles, it saves $32. At current prices, the 25,000 tons per year that the city recycles saves $800,000. Mayor Pugh’s goal is to double the recycling rate within a few years; if that goal is met, the city will save $1.6 million annually at current prices.

While the markets for recycled materials fluctuate, the costs of upgrading the aging incinerator and expanding the ash landfill can be expected to rise in the next few years. Replacement incineration and landfill capacity will steadily increase over time. For example, the installation of selective catalytic reduction (SCR) technology to reduce pollution at Wheelabrator was estimated by air quality officials to cost somewhere around $70 million, with $10 or $11 million in yearly operating costs. The Harford County, MD, garbage incinerator closed after 28 years instead of its projected useful service life of 30 years, because “complete upgrades [would have been] uneconomical and unsuccessful at achieving an increase in operational efficiency.”

Baltimore City’s contract with Wheelabrator Baltimore expires at the end of 2021 with a city option through 2026. If the incinerator continues to operate beyond 2021, the city will have to expand the capacity of Quarantine Road Landfill.

Baltimore’s business institutions and residences generate about 970,000 tons of solid waste a year, including 286,000 tons of construction & demolition debris.



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Rural Solar At Risk As Co-ops Push for Less Oversight

by Karlee Weinmann | March 30, 2017 12:34 pm

Minnesota’s governor recently vetoed[1] anti-renewables legislation that threatens rural solar development, but the bill’s likely resurgence means the state remains among a growing crop of Midwestern states facing the prospect of heavy-handed limitations on solar growth.

The Minnesota legislation would have exempted rural electric cooperatives from all oversight of distributed generation policy by state regulators, putting the utilities alone in charge of resolving customer disputes over rates and fees related to owning distributed renewable energy systems like solar. The legislation would have allowed rural utilities to implement anti-solar policies[2] without scrutiny from the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission, the regulator charged with safeguarding the public interest.

Coincidentally, the Commission is already probing whether fees imposed by some co-ops on customers with rooftop solar are justified. After a series of complaints, regulators opened a docket focused on determining whether those charges — sometimes masked as other required expenses, like for a new meter — reflect the utility’s actual costs to serve customers with solar panels, or are instead a backhanded attempt to recover lost sales.

Still, even in the face of unresolved questions, the problematic measure drew bipartisan supporters who misleadingly billed it a restoration of “local control.” The bill met with Gov. Mark Dayton’s veto pen soon after it crossed his desk.

“The effect of this proposed legislation would negatively impact Minnesota’s progress toward more renewable and efficient energy,” the governor said in a letter explaining his move[3]. “All Minnesota customers — from family farmers to large businesses — should be able to invest in technology to produce clean and efficient energy with the assurance that the Public Utilities Commission is available to provide consumer protection.”

Dayton’s veto was a distinct win for the co-op member owners, renewable energy advocates, and others who vocally opposed the bill. But the legislation’s proponents remain committed to peeling back regulations that expand clean energy options. State Rep. Pat Garofalo hinted soon after the veto that similar language would surface again[4]. Days later, the zombie provision appeared in omnibus legislation[5] that remains under consideration.

Co-op Solar in Cross Hairs Across Midwest

The Minnesota legislation is among several efforts led by rural cooperatives in statehouses across the Midwest to limit oversight of or directly undercut policies supporting customer-owned distributed generation.


Companion bills in the Iowa House and Senate (HB442[6] and SB331[7]) would slacken reporting requirements energy efficiency programs of non-rate-regulated utilities (including co-ops). The legislation, still working its way through the statehouse, would reduce reporting from every year to every other year.

This relatively narrow proposal is unlikely to upend Iowa’s efficiency efforts. But it could pave the way for more substantial utility deregulation — if lawmakers’ show an appetite for it this time around.


Legislation up for consideration in Missouri (HB340[8]) could prove a  double-whammy for rooftop solar. The provisions proposed this session would upend rooftop solar compensation by exempting from net metering all utilities that serve fewer than 20,000 meters — an obvious nod to co-ops, which typically serve wide geographic areas with low populations. In fact, the state’s co-ops are among the most visible proponents[9] of the changes.

Additionally, the overhaul would allow co-ops (and municipal utilities) to create individual rate structures for members who generate their own power, potentially opening the door to added charges that render rooftop solar cost-prohibitive. The proposed change represents a sharp deviation from the existing requirement that all residential electric customers be treated the same.


Hours of testimony at an Indiana Senate committee meeting this month exposed deep divides between the state’s utilities and policies that promote growth in the clean energy economy. New legislation (SB309[10]) is the latest attempt by the state’s utilities to dampen mounting enthusiasm for renewable generation.

The proposed bill[11] would ban net metering by 2027 and restrict state regulators’ options for replacing it with alternative compensation for households and businesses that generate their own solar power. Rather than getting the retail price for energy they feed back onto the grid, solar customers would instead receive the much lower avoided cost or wholesale rate, despite this energy being absorbed at the retail level by their neighbors.

Further, the bill includes a mandatory “buy-all, sell-all” provision — its attempt at a replacement for net metering — that would prohibit customers from actually using the energy they generate using rooftop arrays, forcing them to send all of it onto the grid. The proposed pricing changes mean these customers would lose money selling their power to the utility at the wholesale rate, then buy it back at a premium. (This mechanism isn’t unfair by default. Minnesota’s “value of solar” policy has a similar provision, but its carefully calculated solar valuation[12] actually pays a premium to retail prices for solar based on its value to the grid.)

As with previous efforts[13] designed to limit regulatory oversight in Indiana, the state’s investor-owned utilities are playing a key role this time around. But co-ops landed in the spotlight recently when senators passed an amendment[14] to the legislation that would exempt rural utilities from competitive procurement requirements.

A Tough Battle Ahead

The legislative assault on solar generation, particularly in rural areas, doesn’t show signs of letting up. Nor will it, as long as utility customers (and in the case of cooperatives, member-owners) continue to find solar attractive while their utilities fail to deliver solar options.

There are ways forward that don’t involve utilities undermining their owners and customers at the legislature. Minnesota[15] and New York[16] are modeling how to value distributed renewable energy resources appropriately. Many cooperatives are offering customers a chance to subscribe to community solar[17] arrays, and some are even throwing in a free electric water heater[18] that the utility can essentially use like a battery.

In the near term, some utilities will succeed in undermining the economics of customer-owned solar, to their detriment. Because with rapidly falling costs of solar and energy storage, it may not be long before they have to worry about customers–especially those that have been maligned by bad policy–looking to cut the cord[19].

Image credit: User: OgreBot/Uploads by new users/2015 January 15 12:00[20]

This article originally posted at[21]. For timely updates, follow John Farrell[22] or Karlee Weinmann[23] on Twitter or get the Energy Democracy weekly[24] update.

  1. vetoed:
  2. allowed rural utilities to implement anti-solar policies:
  3. a letter explaining his move:
  4. surface again:
  5. omnibus legislation:
  6. HB442:
  7. SB331:
  8. HB340:
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  11. proposed bill:
  12. carefully calculated solar valuation:
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  14. passed an amendment:
  15. Minnesota:
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  17. community solar:
  18. throwing in a free electric water heater:
  19. cut the cord:
  20. User: OgreBot/Uploads by new users/2015 January 15 12:00:
  22. John Farrell:
  23. Karlee Weinmann:
  24. Energy Democracy weekly:

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Compostable Plastics Bill Advances in Maryland

by Virginia Streeter | March 29, 2017 3:03 pm

Since we wrote about[1] Maryland House Bill 1349[2], “Compostable, Degradable, and Biodegradable Plastic Products – Labeling,” in late February, it has made significant progress in the Maryland state legislature. As of March 23rd, the bill passed its third reading in the House and moved on to the Senate. Since the bill was not cross-filed with the Senate, it does not receive a public hearing, although it still goes to the Education, Health, and Environmental Affairs Committee to be discussed.

The initial bill hearing[3] was held on March 1, 2017, in a joint session with the Environment and Transportation Committee and the Economic Matters Committee. Brenda Platt of the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, Linda Norris Waldt of the US Composting Council[4], and Rhodes Yepsen of the Biodegradable Plastics Institute[5] all testified in favor as a part of bill sponsor Delegate Shane Robinson’s[6] panel of experts. After an extensive discourse on the bill, where the expert panel fielded questions regarding the standards laid out in the bill and what implementation of the law would look like, the bill was voted out of committee with a favorable-with-amendments designation. The only amendment was suggested by Julie Lawson of Trash Free Maryland[7], who testified about her concern with the standards the bill set for “marine degradable” products, as it would have conflicted with the existing Maryland state ban on microbeads.

Given the bill’s overall intention to prevent products that are not truly compostable from ending up in composting facilities, the references to marine degradable materials were stricken entirely from the legislation. If it passes, Maryland will be on the cutting edge of this crucial issue; only California has adopted similar legislation.

A number of organizations, including ILSR, testified in favor of the bill. The written testimonies for the following organizations are available below:

From left to right: Del. Shane Robinson, Brenda Platt, Linda Norris Waldt, and Rhodes Yepsen. Brenda Platt is holding up an example of a compostable plastic bag.

From left to right: Del. Shane Robinson, Brenda Platt, Linda Norris Waldt, and Rhodes Yepsen. Brenda Platt is showing the committee samples of bags marketed as compostable or biodegradable, but which came out of the composting process mostly intact.




Full bill available here:[12].

Follow the Institute for Local Self-Reliance on Twitter[13] and Facebook[14] and, for monthly updates on our work, sign-up[15] for our ILSR general newsletter.

  1. we wrote about:
  2. Maryland House Bill 1349:
  3. initial bill hearing:
  4. US Composting Council:
  5. Biodegradable Plastics Institute:
  6. Delegate Shane Robinson’s:
  7. Trash Free Maryland:
  8. Biodegradable Plastics Institute:
  9. Institute for Local Self-Reliance:
  10. United States Composting Council:
  11. Veteran Compost:
  13. Twitter:
  14. Facebook:
  15. sign-up:

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Public-Private Partnership Pursued in Pennsylvania

by Hannah Trostle | March 28, 2017 6:37 am

Pennsylvania’s state barriers won’t stop this community from improving Internet service for its municipal facilities, residents, and businesses. The City of Lancaster is collaborating with private provider MAW Communications to ensure the community has next-generation technology. Their public-private partnership, LanCity Connect, will offer affordable 1 gigabit (1,000 Megabits per second) service over a new Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) network.

Shared Risk, Public Financing

The Lancaster Online has closely followed the development of the partnership from a 2015 Wi-Fi project between the partners to the current citywide fiber plan. Here’s a quick summary of the basic framework of the partnership:

MAW Communications originally built a $1.7 million fiber backbone[1] starting in 2015 with financing from the city’s water fund bond. The city had refinanced its water utility debt, saving some $7.8 million and they worked out an agreement with MAW where the private partner would deploy and own a backbone fiber network. Over the 20 year term of the deal, the city has the right to half the network for city services, including automatic meter reading (AMR) and a traffic control system, with the city being able to renew the deal for four additional terms. Officials have said this arrangement will not impact water rates.

MAW Communications will extend the network to premises, aided by a $1.5 million loan with a 7 percent interest rate from the city’s general fund reserves. The provider will repay the loan over a 13 year period. As long as MAW Communications has an outstanding loan to the city, the provider cannot sell the network without the city’s written approval. Though the loan will help MAW to begin building the network, the costs of connecting homes and businesses would still be prohibitive at $1,000 each if not for another element of the plan.

The city developed a creative way to spread that $1,000 connection charge across a longer time horizon. Lancaster will transfer a $1.5 million loan from the city’s water fund to a Special Revenue Fund for LanCity Connect. If more funds are needed, the city can loan $1.5 million in 2018 and again in 2019 from the water fund. These loans will be paid back via a 13 percent surcharge on LanCity Connect’s rates – this surcharge is expected to last indefinitely.

Business Administrator Patrick Hopkins provided the details these financials in this presentation, which the city government live-streamed on its Facebook page (the presentation runs for about 48 minutes):


Savings For The City

The city of Lancaster looks forward to necessary improvements and major cost savings for city services. High-speed connectivity for traffic signals will enable remote monitoring of traffic congestion. The water utility will save $130,000 – $200,000 per year through automatic water meter reading. For internal Internet service costs alone, the city will save $110,000 annually. Police and city officials will be able to securely and freely connect to the network from anywhere in the city.

seal-lancaster-pa.gifAnd of course, the city will see better Internet service for residents and businesses. Local leaders anticipate that the network will improve economic development and generally improve the quality of life locally.

If MAW Communications defaults on the loan repayments, the city may claim ownership of the network and will have liens on other MAW Communications’ assets and revenues. The community may run a risk if another provider like Comcast were to purchase MAW, however unlikely that may be. The city would be repaid the debt but would no longer have a real market for Internet services.

MAW Communications and the city of Lancaster have attempted to strike a balance between risk and reward that benefits the community overall in this partnership. We think they have done a reasonable job given the challenges of creating a partnership in the current environment. For more about collaborations between the public and private sectors for better connectivity, read the report Successful Strategies Behind Broadband Public-Private Partnerships by Christopher Mitchell and Patrick Lucey.

From Free Wi-Fi To Fiber Fast: Recent History

When Lancaster was originally ready to improve Internet access with fiber, the incumbent provider wasn’t interested. Under Pennsylvania law, the main telecom provider has the right-of-first-refusal and Lancaster approached Verizon but they turned down the offer in February 2015. Lancaster looked to other providers and found a trusted partner.

MAW Communications proved its reliability to Lancaster by working with the city on previous projects. The company had provided free public Wi-Fi and installed fiber in the downtown corridor before considering a citywide network.

For the project in downtown, MAW Communications installed the fiber underground through microtrenching — overhead wires are not allowed in the city center. The city pitched in $500,000 to have this fiber installed, and the local ABC affiliate’s video lauded Lancaster as “the first city in Pennsylvania to offer free public Internet access.

At this point, MAW Communications and Lancaster began to look specifically at a citywide network. They created a pilot project, called The Early Adopter Program, to test the possibility of providing Internet service to residents. From the pilot project, 95 percent of the customers described LanCity Connect as “reliable” “high quality” and “useful.”

Building the Network

Over the next two years, MAW Communications will build the network overhead by stringing the cables on the utility poles. The company will divide the city into nine sections and build the network in four phases. See the map of the plan on LanCity Connect’s website.

logo-lanconnect.pngEach phase will feature a registration period when folks can sign up for the new service. After the registration period closes for a particular phase, new sign-ups will not be accepted until the entire network is complete.

The city has an area of about 4 square miles and approximately 21,400 total households. Both partners anticipate quick deployment and attracting customers quickly. MAW Communications estimates 4,000 initial households will take service from the network and a 2 percent annual growth[2] in subscribership. Like an increasing number of communities considering or investing in publicly owned infrastructure, LanCity Connect[3] won’t offer video service, instead focusing only on Internet service.

Rates And Installation

Residents in Lancaster will have four speed tier options:

There will also be a low-income price available for 50 Mbps (price not available yet). This chart compares MAW’s rates to the incumbent’s. The Internet service also requires a router, which costs about $250 through MAW Communications. Residents have three options: pay $250 outright, rent-to-own the MAW Communications router, or provide their own router. All tiers are symmetrical – the same upload and download speeds – which will enable telecommuting opportunities and better service for local businesses that need to share files with clients and colleagues.

Scheduling for installation will begin on April 1st and all phases should be complete by December 2019.

This article was originally published on ILSR’s[4]. Read the original here[5].

  1. $1.7 million fiber backbone:
  2. a 2 percent annual growth:
  3. LanCity Connect:
  5. here:

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Breaking Through Partisanship: Left-Right-Local – Episode 14 of the Building Local Power Podcast

by Nick Stumo-Langer | March 23, 2017 12:30 pm

Welcome to episode fourteen of the Building Local Power podcast[1]. For full transcript of the podcast, click here[2].

In this episode, Christopher Mitchell, the director of ILSR’s Community Broadband Networks initiative, interviews John Farrell[3], Stacy Mitchell[4], and David Morris[5], directors of our Energy Democracy, Community-Scaled Economies, and Public Good initiatives, respectively. The group discusses the nature of local policies and politics versus the national-level fights and hyper-partisanship.

This free-form discussion centers around the innovative economic structures many communities are investing in and how best to connect them to policies.

“Talking about economics is one way to get there, but also, there are these shared values that we have around democracy, local control, liberty,” says Stacy Mitchell of organizing for better local solutions to national problems. “Those are things that are widely all American. I think, also, going back to those basic values and motivations are really helpful in getting past being trapped in an unhealthy partisan conversation.”



  1. Building Local Power podcast:
  2. here: #transcript
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Legislative and Broadband Relief For Pinetops, North Carolina In Sight

by Lisa Gonzalez | March 23, 2017 7:43 am

Since August 2016, the small community of Pinetops has been on the verge of losing their best connection to the 21st century – high quality Internet access. The North Carolina Legislature has a chance to change all that this session with legislation that will carve out an exception to restrictive state laws that prevent a local municipal provider from serving this rural town.

The State Blocks Service

When the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit reversed the FCC’s preemption[1] of state law restricting geographical reach of broadband from municipal electric utilities, Pinetops was in a pickle. Nearby Wilson had extended its Greenlight high capacity Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) service to the tiny community where residents and businesses were still slumping on DSL, dialing up, or not connected at all. The court’s reversal required the city of Wilson to risk losing their ability to serve their own community if they continued to do business as a provider for Pinetops[2].

The only way Pinetops and another customer outside Wilson County – Vick Family Farms – could continue with Greenlight was when the City Council voted to continue temporary service at no charge[3]. Elected officials made the decision based on the expectation that legislators would introduce proposals to carve out exceptions for both Pinetops and the Vick Family Farm, commercial potato farm also located outside of Wilson County. Last week, they made good on that promise[4].

Reps Step In To Help

Representatives Susan Martin (R) and Jean Farmer-Butterfield (D), both from Wilson, introduced HB 396[5], which allows Wilson to expand Greenlight to Pinetops and the area in Nash County where Vick Family Farms is located. The legislation would allow the Nash County business to continue with the service it needs for daily operations. Pinetops is located in Edgecombe County. North Carolina’s restrictions prevent municipal networks like Greenlight from serving subscribers beyond county lines.

When the FCC preempted that restriction[6], Wilson answered requests from Pinetops and Vick Family Farms to come to their neck of the woods. Pinetops has steadily lost population and jobs due to its poor connectivity. Vick Family Farms wanted to invest in a new processing facility and open up its business to an online customer base. Both have experienced turn arounds since obtaining access to FTTH connectivity and don’t want to go back[7] to their prior situation.

Hurricane Matthew hit Pinetops in September 2016 and the community is still recovering. Community leaders in Wilson don’t want to compound Pintetops’ difficulties by taking away the Internet access they’ve come to depend on.

Bipartisan And Local

Because HB 396 is local and impacts 15 or fewer counties, it doesn’t require the Governor’s signature to take affect. If both the House and Senate pass the bill, it will immediately become law. In addition to the two main sponsors – one from each party – several other legislators have signed on to HB 396.

This article is a part of MuniNetworks. The original piece can be found here[8].

  1. reversed the FCC’s preemption:
  2. if they continued to do business as a provider for Pinetops:
  3. at no charge:
  4. they made good on that promise:,82311
  5. HB 396:
  6. FCC preempted that restriction:
  7. don’t want to go back:
  8. here:

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Video: A Solar Leader Emerges in Rural Iowa

by Karlee Weinmann | March 15, 2017 10:30 am

It seems counter-intuitive that a conservative farming community in southeastern Iowa is home to some of the most expansive solar generation in the U.S. But that’s exactly what’s happening in the area served by Farmers Electric Cooperative, the rural utility whose enterprising leader, Warren McKenna, saw renewables as a gateway to economic vitality.

Last summer, ILSR spent some time experiencing firsthand the solar explosion in this Iowa community and learning how Farmers Electric made it happen. See it for yourself here:

To learn more, read the full story[1] on McKenna’s successful campaign to make his community a solar giant.

Video by Stephen Maturen[2].

This article originally posted at[3]. For timely updates, follow John Farrell[4] or Karlee Weinmann[5] on Twitter or get the Energy Democracy weekly[6] update.

  1. read the full story:
  2. Stephen Maturen:
  4. John Farrell:
  5. Karlee Weinmann:
  6. Energy Democracy weekly:

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America’s Major Market Power Problem – Episode 13 of the Building Local Power Podcast

by Nick Stumo-Langer | March 9, 2017 12:00 pm

Welcome to episode thirteen of the Building Local Power podcast[1]. For full transcript of the podcast, click here[2].

In this episode, Christopher Mitchell, the director of ILSR’s Community Broadband Networks initiative, interviews Stacy Mitchell, co-director of the ILSR and director of the Community-Scaled Economies initiative. The two discuss the environment for small businesses in the United States, especially noting the fact that the rate of small business creation is at one of its lowest rates since the early 1970s.

Additionally, Stacy and Chris talk about how the issue of small businesses and incentivizing their creation is a bipartisan issue that greatly benefits local economies.

“The economy has grown very concentrated, in a lot of industries, there are just two or three huge firms that control most of the market,” says Stacy Mitchell of the current dismal rate of small business creation. “There’s evidence that [these firms] use that power to actually exclude and block smaller businesses from being able to get to market, to have a fair opportunity to compete.”


For the report that Stacy referred to this week, check out our report, Monopoly Power and the Decline of Small Business[8] from August 2016.

Monopoly Power and the Decline of Small Business: The Case for Restoring America’s Once Robust Antitrust Policies[9]

Here are Stacy and Chris’ reading recommendations from this week:

From Stacy:


Yale Law Review Journal’s “Amazon’s Antitrust Paradox[11]” by Lina Khan



The Economic Innovation Group’s “Dynamism in Retreat: Consequences for Regions, Markets, and Workers[13]“















From Chris:


“Anansi Boys[15]” by Neil Gaiman Available from an independent retailer here:[16].

View the full transcript of the podcast, below.If you missed our previous episodes make sure to bookmark our Building Local Power [17]Podcast Homepage[18]. Please give us a review and rating on iTunes or wherever you subscribe to podcasts.

Full Transcript of Podcast:

Chris Mitchell: Hey, Stacy. I hear that Americans aren’t creating new businesses anymore. What’s going on?
Stacy Mitchell: The rate of new startup businesses in this country is half of what it was in the late 1970’s. We think of ourselves as a nation of startups, but we really aren’t anymore.
Chris Mitchell: Well, that’s actually pretty disturbing that it’s late 1970’s, because that was when I was born, but also, I associate it with a period of economic stagnation in fact.
Stacy Mitchell: Exactly. There are a lot of ways in which I think today’s economy creates this kind of illusion of dynamism and competition, when in fact if we peel back and look a little closer, there’s much less competition than there used to be. It’s harder and harder for ordinary Americans to start and grow a business.
Chris Mitchell: It’s very disturbing. That’s what we’re going to be talking about for this show. You just heard the voice of Stacy Mitchell with our Independent Business Program at the Institute for Local Self-Reliance. She’s coming out of Portland, Maine. I’m Chris Mitchell in Minneapolis. I work on our broadband work. Today, we’re going to be talking about basically what’s hurting local business and small business formation.

Let me just ask you to remember to rate our program, the Building Local Power podcast, on iTunes or wherever you find it. Tell your friends to blog, tweet, do Facebook posts, tumble with it. Do whatever you need to do to get the message out there, please, to share this discuss.

Now, Stacy. Let’s get back into this. Why aren’t new firms being created?

Stacy Mitchell: Well, there’s one reason that a lot of people are looking at, which is that the economy has grown very concentrated. That is that in a lot of industries, there are just two or three huge firms that control most of the market, and there’s evidence that they use that power to actually exclude and block smaller businesses from being able to get to market, to having a fair opportunity to compete. We’ve seen this in lots of different industries where we see big businesses doing this and just making it harder for small businesses to actually get their products to market or be able to compete.
Chris Mitchell: Stacy, you wrote a paper that was published last summer, “Monopoly Power and the Decline of Small Business: The Case for Restoring America’s Once Robust Antitrust Policies.” I find it interesting because I think a lot of people will hear in media that the problem that’s harming businesses is government policy, that there’s too many regulations. I’m curious if you can talk about that. It seems to me that what we’re actually talking about is whether we have good regulations or bad regulations.
Stacy Mitchell: I think that’s absolutely right. There are two storylines out there that are dominant about why small businesses are disappearing. One is the storyline that they’re just inefficient, and they can’t compete, and they’re just going to fall by the wayside naturally because of competition. The other storyline is that government is interfering with them, tangling them up in a bunch of regulations and high taxes and so on.When you look more closely, there’s lots of evidence that small businesses are actually highly competitive, and that there are things that they do better and more nimbly than the big companies, and that the real problem is that they’re getting blocked from the market. When it comes to regulation, I think you’re exactly right. The real question we should be considering is what does the regulation do, and how does it work, does it work well?

What we see a lot of is that big companies game government in ways that result in regulation that doesn’t impede their behavior, but puts a lot of problems in the way of small businesses. Really, as you said, it’s a question of how does government either support a dynamic and diverse economy or not? It’s not a matter of more or less regulation.

Chris Mitchell: It strikes me that you’ve talked about this before in that if you look at surveys of the groups that are pro big business, they’ll often talk about how some of the worst places to do business are San Francisco, maybe, or Vermont. These are areas that actually have the highest number of local businesses. Am I getting that pretty close?
Stacy Mitchell: Yeah. It’s absolutely right. Texas has one of the lowest rates of small business and Texas is a state that we often think of as free and open economy. Vermont, on the other hand, has the highest rate of small businesses. When I look at it, I see Vermont is a state that has done a pretty good job of keeping big companies in check. They use regulation really to ensure competition and ensure opportunity, as opposed to allowing big companies just to use their market power to crush smaller businesses.
Chris Mitchell: Now, as you know, I am a huge book lover. I used to work in a used bookstore. I have 2,500 volumes in my small home. I think it’s actually an interesting little experiment that seems to have been run because small bookstores seems to be getting destroyed when Barnes & Noble and Borders were running rampant. Then the market changed enough that those big bookstores seemed to go away. It seems to me that small bookstores are now actually bucking the trend. There’s been a lot of new, small bookstores that have been created, right?
Stacy Mitchell: That’s right. We’ve added over 500 new, independent bookstores in the last five years or so.
Chris Mitchell: There hasn’t been a major change in government regulations, but it strikes me that there has been a change in basically unfair, very large, consolidated competition.
Stacy Mitchell: It’s been a couple of things that I think are driving that growth of new bookstores. One is that Borders failed. That opened up a lot of territory for bookstores to go in. We lost one of the biggest chains.

Then one of the other drivers is that the buy local movement has, for various reasons, heavily benefited bookstores. When people think about the kinds of community businesses that are important to them, bookstores have been sort of like the local food movement, the other real focal point of those efforts. Independent bookstores have benefited. There’s also a new generation of bookstore owners who are figuring out this new territory and how to be successful in the current market.

That said, Amazon is now incredibly dominant in the book business. The reason that Borders failed and that Barnes & Noble is quite shaky right now is because Amazon’s got a lot of market power. When independent bookstores, they’ve done fairly well in recent years, but when they look to the future, they’re quite concerned about where things are headed.

Chris Mitchell: One of the things that your paper, “Monopoly Power and the Decline of Small Business,” notes is that authors get a lot more sales from small businesses, particularly unknown authors who readers like me learn about them through word of mouth, from local businesses. Is that one of those things you were noting that local businesses just tend to do better?
 Stacy Mitchell: This is one of the most important things that we’ve documented across a lot of different industries, books being one, which is that if you have this diversity of independent retailers and a diversity of distributors and so on, you have a much wider range of products that actually make it to market. What big chains do, and even Amazon, is that they really funnel consumers to a handful of top products. They actually can even manipulate the search results that you’re seeing in order to channel you to products that have a higher profit margin for them. In the case of Amazon, it’s increasingly manufacturing or publishing its own books. It publishes many books. It’s steering consumers to a small number of titles.The result is that a new author or a small publisher has a much harder time breaking into that market. If there are independent bookstores, as a new author, you can get going simply by having some of those bookstore owners notice your book and start hand-selling it to consumers. Then word of mouth starts to take off and you can actually find your way to an audience. That’s true not just of books, but it’s true of toys, clothing. Everything else in the marketplace there’s this same story.

We’ve done a lot of interviews with small manufacturers and they are very concerned about consolidation in the retail sector, that there are so few chains, and Amazon is so dominant. What they all talk about, when you hear them describe the role of independent retailers, it’s clear that they’re like this keystone species for the whole industry. That the health of the independent retail part of the industry is so critical to those new products having a chance to be discovered by consumers in the first place. Just to give you a statistic, you’re about three times more likely to discover a new book that you didn’t know about, but that you’d like to read, if you’re browsing in an independent bookstore than if you’re shopping at Amazon.

Chris Mitchell: It’s interesting to me that you can create a bookstore. I think it’s a little bit easier than, for instance, starting a new pharmacy. In part, that’s because of you have monopoly in a middle layer here, where if you want to start a pharmacy, you have to deal with something called pharmacy benefit management companies. I wonder if you can just tell us a little bit about how that impacts whether or not we can have competitive pharmacies.
Stacy Mitchell: That’s a great question. Pharmacy benefit management companies or PBMs. Most consumers have never even heard of these companies, but they’re among the most powerful players in the health care market, and particularly in prescription drug benefits. PBMs, there are just two of them that control almost 80% of all the prescriptions in this country. They hugely dominate the market.PBMs are basically hired by your health insurance provider to decide what to control your pharmacy, your benefits. They’re the ones that decide which pharmacies are going to be in the network that you can use. They also set the reimbursement rates so when those pharmacies dispense a drug to you, how much they get paid back from the insurance company, that’s set by the PBMs.

The PBMs, what’s astonishing to me is that the PBMs own their own mail-order pharmacies. The largest PBM, CVS Health, owns the second-largest chain of chain pharmacies, CVS. What these companies do is that they use their contracts with independent pharmacies. They basically go to independent pharmacies and they say, “You have two choices. You can either be in the network and be one of the pharmacies that’s covered by this big insurance plan, but in order to be in the network, we’re going to set these reimbursement rates that basically leave you barely getting by or, in fact, losing money on the prescriptions that you dispense.”

You’re stuck between this rock and a hard place as an independent pharmacy. The reason that these companies do that, of course, is that they just want to steer all the business to their pharmacies, to their own mail order, or in the case of CVS, to the CVS chain.

The analysis that we did a couple of years ago that I think is really eye-opening is that we looked at the state of North Dakota. North Dakota doesn’t allow chain pharmacies to operate in the state. A state only has independent pharmacies. This is a law that goes back to 1963. It’s unique in the United States, but it’s similar to laws in a lot of European countries.

It offers this great and sort of unusual test case to look at, “Well, what happens in a market where there are only independents?” We’re trained to imagine that that would be not very competitive. It wouldn’t be good for consumers. It might be high-priced and bad service. All these stereotypes we have about small businesses in our head.

It turns out that North Dakota has among the lowest prescription drug prices in the country and they have very high levels of health care service. They also have a lot of pharmacies. They have more pharmacies per capita than any other state in the country. You can go to these tiny town in North Dakota with 500 people and there will be a pharmacist there, often the only professional health care provider in the community.

The reason that independent pharmacies are so healthy in North Dakota is because unlike pharmacies, they still have to deal with the PBMs, but because there is no other chain in North Dakota, it basically levels that negotiation playing field. The PBMs have to really negotiate with independents instead of just handing them this take-it-or-leave-it contract that is going to ultimately destroy their business, such as what we’ve seen happen in all the other states.

Chris Mitchell: I actually classify this law in North Dakota as weird law. I’ve mentioned this in a previous Building Local Power episode. In Minnesota, we actually just lost a ban on Sunday liquor sales because it was seen as being antiquated. In fact, banning Sunday liquor sales is not about puritanical desires. It’s about supporting small businesses because small businesses, people who run them would like a day off. It turns out that if you allow Sunday liquor stores sales, you’re not going to have a whole bunch of new sales. You’re just going to spread your cost and your revenue across more widely. That’s going to be bad for small businesses, but it’s great for big chains. I’m curious, do you think that we need more of these weird laws to level the playing field?
Stacy Mitchell: I think we do, especially in the absence of federal antitrust action. I think it’s really up to states and cities in this environment to step up and insist that there be a competitive open market that not only serves consumers well, but creates opportunities for people to start businesses, grow jobs, all the other things that our competition laws at the federal level are, in theory, supposed to protect. North Dakota’s pharmacy ownership law is a great example in the sense that it’s a regulation that actually supports more competition and a healthier, freer, more productive, dynamic market by interfering in that way. That’s effectively what you get.
Chris Mitchell: I also think one of the benefits of that North Dakota law is that you probably don’t have the pharmacies shaping the rules. As you well know, in North Dakota, some big companies like Walmart tried to come in and muscled their way in and changed the rules in North Dakota using various means, but they didn’t have the political power to just change the rules because political power was dispersed because of each community having its own pharmacy, effectively.
Stacy Mitchell: Well, yeah. This is another very powerful reason, it seems to me, that we should be, as a society, very concerned about consolidation, about this drop-off in small business. Is that ultimately the goal of dispersing economic power, going back to the Boston Tea Party, has always been about protecting democracy. The ways in which corporations are able to use their leverage with government to get their way, to make us citizens less and less powerful, that in and of itself should be a reason to break up concentrations of power and to really insist on an economy where power is much more dispersed.
Chris Mitchell: As we round out the interview, I just want to note a report from the Economic Innovation Group called, “Dynamism in Retreat.” It says that the missing companies, if we had just created small businesses along historical norms, that we would have one million more jobs today in the United States than we do. That’s pretty incredible.
Stacy Mitchell: It is. It’s really striking. Another thing that I found quite striking in this data that they just released last month is they looked at how the last four years during this economic recovery period, how many new businesses were created versus previous recoveries in the early 2000’s, the early ’90’s, and the 1980’s. They found that the rate of business creation in this recovery is 1/3 of what it was during the recovery in the 1990’s.

Also, what was most striking is that in previous recoveries, new business formation has been happening all across the country. What they found now is that there are only five metro areas where there’s significant new business growth. All the other metro areas are not seeing that. In fact, in 60% of all metros right now, there are more business deaths than there are business births. In history, we’ve never seen that before. It’s really a remarkable shift and one that, particularly for the reason of job creation, but lots of other reasons, is quite alarming.

Chris Mitchell: One of the things that I liked about this report is that it was pretty nonpartisan. I think sometimes you see reports like this and they just want to say, “This is happening because the Democrats are terrible or the Republicans are for the big guy.” This really, I think, I don’t want to say down the middle, but it’s pretty independent. It notes consolidation within the banking sector, something that I think Republicans tend to support. It notes the rising level of regulations and challenges of starting a new business, which is something that I think Democrats take a little bit more responsibility for at times.

I’m just curious if you have any reactions to that because I think it’s one thing if you have people being like, “Well, that’s just because Obama hated businesses.” I really want to be clear that I think we would root the problems with small-business formations in the deficiencies of both parties, really.

Stacy Mitchell: I think that’s absolutely right. I think in some ways, some of the kinds of reforms that we’ve been advocating at the policy level, we’ve had a tough time with Republicans in the House and Senate, to be clear. That’s certainly the case with respect to beefing up antitrust enforcement. We’ve seen much more movement and leadership from Democrats on that.

On the other hand, there are areas, and I think banking is an excellent example, where the mess that we find ourselves in right now where we have a handful banks that own most of the market, where we’ve lost one out of every four community banks in the last seven years, that kind of consolidation has been driven both by Republicans and Democrats. It was Bill Clinton that passed the two major banking laws that really shifted banking policy and gave the upper hand to Wall Street banks.

There’s a lot to like about Dodd-Frank, the financial reform bill that was passed in the wake of the financial crisis. I like the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. I think it’s done a lot of good things. The law certainly closed off some of the worst shenanigans on the part of Wall Street banks. I don’t want to paint it with one brush, but it also didn’t really address the issue of consolidation. It didn’t break up these big banks. At the same time, it created new compliance obligations for community banks that has made it a little bit more difficult to stay in business. I think when you look at banking it’s really clear that powerful wings of each party have played a significant role in causing that consolidation and not really addressing the problem.

Chris Mitchell: I’d like to wrap it up, I think, by just noting that even though we would say both parties have a share of responsibility, under no circumstances are we claiming that that’s shared 50/50. Had Hillary been elected, I have no doubt that we would be very angry at the level of influence that Goldman Sachs would have over White House. However, the level of Wall Street input into the Trump White House is off the charts. I don’t want to do any false equivalence here.
Stacy Mitchell: Well, that’s absolutely right. It’s infuriating to watch the Republican leadership in the House and Senate right now saying, “Oh, we’ve got to roll back Dodd-Frank in order to help community banks.” When you look at the actual provisions of Dodd-Frank that they want to roll back, it’s often related to things that have nothing to do with community banks. It has to do with securities trading, and derivatives, and all this other stuff that Wall Street banks are up to. It’s particularly galling, I think, when you purport to be doing something on behalf of small businesses or local banks when all you’re really doing is giving out big favors and easing up on these large corporations.
Chris Mitchell: We like to end with a reading recommendation. Is there anything that you’ve read recently you want to share with the audience?
Stacy Mitchell: I have two, but they’re both kind of wonky reads. They’re not necessarily curl up by the fireside kinds of reads, but they’re really great. The first one is an article called, “Amazon’s Antitrust Paradox.” This was in the Yale Law Journal just last month. It’s by Lina Khan, who is a fellow at the New America Foundation and also a Yale law school student. It’s really terrific.It’s a look at the way that antitrust law has been changed over the last 30 years or so and how those changes have made our current antitrust policy really not be able to effectively grapple with the anti-competitive concerns that are raised by Amazon in particular. Although it’s a law journal article, it’s very readable and really walks you through some of those changes and what the implications are and the issues raised by Amazon. I think it’s a great companion piece to the report that we published late last year about Amazon.

Then the other thing that I’ve been reading, and again is deep in the weeds, is a book called, Virtual Competition, by two legal scholars, Maurice Stucke and Ariel Ezrachi. It’s a really fascinating book about how the new world of online commerce and the various ways that the internet has altered business, how in that world there are lots of things that make it seem to us very competitive, but in fact, is a kind of veneer that hides all sorts of ways in which that market is much easier for collusion, and behavioral discrimination, and all kinds of things to actually work against competition and harm consumers.

 Chris Mitchell: Great. Since you’re going to be a little bit wonky, I’ll just note that I just picked up a Neil Gaiman book that I hadn’t read yet, Anansi Boys, which I’m not sure how to pronounce exactly. If people aren’t familiar with Neil Gaiman, or Gaiman, I don’t know how to pronounce anything apparently relating to him, I was blown away by his book, Neverwhere. A little less wonky, a little more fun. May not be right for everyone, but I sure loved him. Thank you so much for coming on the show.
Stacy Mitchell: Thanks, Chris. It’s been great.
Lisa Gonzalez: That was Stacy Mitchell joining Christopher for Episode #13 of the Building Local Power podcast. Stacy is Co-Director of ILSR, as well as heading up the Independent Business Program. Christopher, no relation to Stacy, Mitchell is the Director of the Community Broadband Networks Initiative. To download the “Monopoly Power” report Christopher and Stacy discuss, go to and check out the resources in the Independent Business Initiative.

We encourage you to subscribe to this podcast, and all of our other podcasts, on iTunes, Stitcher, or wherever else you get your podcasts. You can also sign up for our monthly newsletter at

Thanks to Dysfunction_AL for the music, licensed through Creative Commons. The song is “Funk Interlude.”

I’m Lisa Gonzalez from the Institute for Local Self-Reliance. Thanks again for listening to Episode #13 of the Building Local Power podcast.

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Audio Credit: Funk Interlude[19] by Dysfunction_AL Ft: Fourstones – Scomber (Bonus Track). Copyright 2016 Licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution Noncommercial (3.0)[20] license.

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Arkansas Utility Leads on Energy, Broadband

by Karlee Weinmann | March 2, 2017 2:00 pm

This article was co-written with ILSR’s Community Broadband Networks initiative research associate, Hannah Trostle, and this piece is cross-posted on[1].

Ouachita Electric Cooperative, nestled deep in south-central Arkansas, is an unlikely innovator in a pair of industries struggling to adapt to shifting market dynamics: electricity and broadband.

Despite rising demand for energy efficiency and renewable electricity generation, large investor-owned utilities — and many rural electric co-ops — have resisted programs to address those needs. Likewise, corporate Internet service providers frequently offer shoddy service at high rates, a particular problem in rural areas with limited competition.

But Ouachita Electric[2] found a way to do both things better, with complementary technologies. Fiber-optic network investments provided lower cost Internet access, but also provide an information backbone for the electric utility that can reduce outage times and verification for energy savings programs. The network and the efficiency programs reduce costs for a customer base dominated by low-income households that can now reinvest their earnings elsewhere in the community.

[3]Inclusive Financing

The utility’s tariff-based, on-bill financing program — known as HELP PAYS[4] — allows customers to invest in energy efficiency upgrades at their homes, like insulation and heat pumps, at no upfront cost. Ouachita Electric covers eligible expenses, then recoups its buy-in through payments from participating customers on their monthly bills. Customers immediately pay less thanks to utility-financed energy-saving improvements.

Unlike other energy efficiency programs, the opt-in “inclusive financing” program, HELP PAYS, enables all Ouachita customers to capture significant benefits:

Customer interest in the tariff-based, on-bill program surged immediately[5] after Ouachita Electric implemented it last year. In the first three months, the number of customers seeking efficiency assessments — a precursor to improvements — doubled, from 73 to more than 162.

In August, the utility reported[6] 100 percent of multifamily and rental units eligible for the program had opted in. At the same point, 92 percent of single-family customers that had received offers to invest in upgrades agreed to do so.

The impact of inclusive financing is especially pronounced in this co-op’s service territory, where the average household income hovers around $33,000 per year, far below the national median of $52,000.

But the benefits of inclusive financing, as proven by Ouachita Electric, extend much further.

The enterprising utility reports cost savings, confirmed and quantified using smart meters. Thanks to inclusive financing, Ouachita Electric has reduced the amount it spends on power to supply electricity to its members. Going forward, it will curb the need to add expensive new generation capacity.

A New Fiber Network

Electric cooperatives have tried a number of approaches to improve internet access for their largely rural customers, from working with satellite communication companies to experimenting with broadband over power lines. Now, Ouachita Electric has started a project to bring some of the fastest Internet service in the U.S. to their co-op members.

Ouachita Electric is collaborating with the local, family-owned, telephone company, South Arkansas Telephone[7], which already provides Internet service to half of Ouachita Electric’s service territory. The partnership, the Arkansas Rural Internet Service (ARIS)[8], is set to bring phone, video, and gigabit Internet service — more than ten times the speeds typically offered by cable companies — to all 9,500 homes and businesses throughout Ouachita Electric’s service territory.

Ouachita Electric and South Arkansas Telephone are co-owners of ARIS, as described by ARIS Director Mark Lundy in Telecompetitor[9]. As such, they will share both the cost of construction and the overall revenues.

Mark Cayce, the general manger of Ouachita Electric Cooperative, explained that the partnership builds on the strengths of both[10] the electric cooperative and the local telephone company:

“They have technical expertise and back office skills we didn’t have. We have access to our members and we built a long-standing reputation of a company that provides really good service.”

They announced the project in mid-June 2016, expecting to hook up the first customers that September. ARIS will offer speeds of up to one gigabit (1,000 Mbps) directly to homes for less than $100 per month. The entire venture will involve installing about 1,800 miles of fiber over the next few years.

These rural communities cannot wait for the better connectivity — which won’t just be better than what they had, it will rival the best networks in the country. Within the first week of the announcement, over 400 members signed up for service.

Fiber networks not only provide high-speed Internet service, but also create opportunities to innovate. Cities have used fiber to improve traffic management, electrical systems, and public safety systems. Ouachita Electric’s investment could enable many of these innovations, but they are starting with smart meters.

Complementary Benefits

With real-time sensors, these smart meters monitor power quality and can deliver notifications of power outages. They form part of a smart grid system that improves monitoring and management of the overall electric power system, resulting in power savings and lower costs.

In an April 2012 report[11], ILSR explained the benefits of the smart grid owned by Chattanooga municipal utility EPB in reducing the time customers are without power:

“EPB credits the smart grid automation with preventing 2.4 million customer minutes of interrupted service during the 2011 tornadoes alone. As of Feb 29, EPB reported that its fiber network had saved 5 million customer minutes interrupted since July 1, 2011—an average of 30 minutes per customer.“

Chattanooga’s smart grid again proved its worth during the July 2012 storms that caused regional power outages. EPB and Oak Ridge National Laboratory’s case study[12] found that the smart grid reduced customer outage time by 55 percent and customer costs by 33 percent. In that one day alone, the smart grid saved the city utility more than $1 million in the expected overtime costs for restoring service.

A 2017 publication[13] by the Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society at Harvard University estimated that the EPB smart grid also provides indirect benefits of $43.5 million annually. That number only includes cost savings from quickly detecting failing equipment and isolating potential problems. EPB also directly saves at least $9.6 million with the new sensors – from catching power theft to better regulating power purchasing.

Additionally, the Chattanooga EPB smart grid actually prevented a house fire,[14] in 2014. Thanks to the real-time information from the smart meter, the municipal electric utility sent a nearby employee to check out an anomaly. It turned out to be a fire in the bushes near the back door of a home. The employee put out the fire and fixed the electric line all before the family came home from church. This would not have been possible without the community fiber network supporting high-speed communication between the meter and the utility.

Ouachita Electric’s decision to invest in the fiber network means the co-op’s members will be well-connected and well-served. Members will save money and conserve energy with the smart meters, and they will have access to some of the most reliable, highest-speed Internet service in the entire country.

What’s Next

Ouachita Electric has cemented its status as a pioneer in boosting access to energy programs and broadband, but it shouldn’t be an outlier. The co-op’s attentiveness to its member-owners’ needs spotlights opportunities to introduce well-designed initiatives that plug gaps in the local economy. It’s a formula that should attract all co-ops, designed with democratic ideals in mind.

These initiatives are a set of powerful tools to address low member-owner engagement that plagues rural utilities nationwide[15]. With trailblazers like Ouachita modeling real-world initiatives that deliver measurable results, other co-ops and their member-owners face a substantially lower barrier to pitching and implementing similar efforts, and to cash in on the robust — and proven — potential of energy savings and Internet access.

This article originally posted at[16]. For timely updates, follow Karlee Weinmann[17] on Twitter or get the Energy Democracy weekly[18] or Community Broadband Networks weekly[19] update.

Photo Credit: Justin Cozart via Flickr[20] (CC BY-SA 2.0)

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Energy Democracy in 4 Powerful Steps

by John Farrell | March 1, 2017 1:27 pm

There’s no question that the energy system is undergoing change. One need look no further than the 1 million solar rooftops in the U.S. or — for the wonky — the source of new power capacity in the U.S. over the past 15 years. In 2003, just 20% of new electric capacity came from renewable power plants. In the last eight years, it’s been at or over 60% almost every year. In the first three quarters of 2016, 16% of our new power capacity came from distributed solar alone (such as home rooftop solar arrays).

But few people realize that the change from fossil fuels to renewable sources is just a harbinger for a phase of massive disruption in energy markets. The disruption will remake how the energy system serves its users and offer unprecedented choices for customers. It may go further than choice.  As the energy system shifts away from the outdated utility monopoly model, the four Ds of energy democracy — distributed power, decentralization, democracy from ownership, and disruptive technology — have the potential to put those users in charge and allow them to reap the economic benefits.


Democracy from Distributed Power

Power generation is the first line of democratization, brought on by the miniaturization of power plants. Last century was defined by gigawatt-scale nuclear and coal and hundred-megawatt-scale gas power plants. Now, power generation has shrunk down to multi-megawatt wind turbines and multi-watt solar panels.

Even the largest wind and solar power plants are compilations of hundreds or thousands of mass produced individual turbines or solar cells.  (more…)[2]

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Maryland Bill to Increase Food Recovery Infrastructure Advances with ILSR’s Help

by Nick Stumo-Langer | February 27, 2017 1:13 pm

Legislation is making its way through the Maryland legislature that will encourage a distributed infrastructure to divert yard waste and food waste from the waste stream. The legislation is called “Department of the Environment – Yard Waste and Food Residuals Diversion and Infrastructure – Study” (Senate Bill 0099[1] and House Bill 0171[2]). The Institute for Local Self-Reliance has been instrumental in working on this legislation with MD Delegate Shane Robinson[3] (District 39). ILSR organized the expert panels to testify and the submittal of written testimonies to the Senate and House committee hearings. ILSR has also helped facilitate a series of consensus amendments. This is the same legislation[4] that passed the Maryland House of Delegates last session but did not move in the Maryland Senate.

The legislation would direct the Maryland Department of the Environment to identify means to promote investment in infrastructure to expand food waste recovery, evaluate the current recovery of food waste in Maryland, identify opportunities for expansion, and more. It specifically calls for the Department to explore ways “to encourage a decentralized and diverse infrastructure.” The Department would report its findings and recommendations to the Governor and the General Assembly. ILSR helped to craft the bill and is named as 1 of 20+ organizations to be represented on the study group. The legislation would go into effect on July 1, 2017.

Senate Bill 99 Hearing

Senate Bill 99[5] was heard by the Education, Health, and Environmental Affairs committee on January 24th, 2017. The Senate bill was introduced by Senator Thomas Middleton (D-Charles)[6]. ILSR, along with a number of ally organizations, testified in favor of the bill.

Testimony and Resources

A number of experts testified at the committee hearing and even more submitted written testimony to the committee. Video of in-person testimony is available from the Maryland State Senate. In-person testimonials came from:

All testimony was in favor of SB 99. Written testimony was submitted by:

Testifiers from Senate Bill 99 Committee Hearing, January 24, 2017.

The Education, Health, and Environmental Affairs committee approved Senate Bill 99 by unanimous vote of 11-0[22] on February 21st, 2017.


House Bill 171 Hearing

House Bill 171[23] was heard by the Environment and Transportation committee on February 8th, 2017.The House bill was introduced by House Delegate Shane Robinson (D-Montgomery Village)[24]. ILSR, along with a number of ally organizations, testified in favor of the bill.

Brenda Platt from Institute for Local Self-Reliance & HB 171 Sponsor Maryland Delegate Shane Robinson

Testimony and Resources

A number of experts testified at the committee hearing and even more submitted written testimony to the committee. Video of in-person testimony is available from the Maryland House of Delegates. In-person testimonials came from:

Commentary and questions continued until 1:00:00 in the video[34]. All testimony was in favor of HB 171.

Written testimony was submitted by:

House Bill 171 is in the line to be voted on at the end of February 2017.


See full bill, here:[47].

Next Steps for SB 99/HB 171

Over the next few weeks, ILSR will monitor the legislation’s progression through both chambers of the Maryland General Assembly, reconciliation through the conference committee to ensure both bills are identical, and (hopefully) seeing it signed by Maryland Governor Larry Hogan.

Follow the Institute for Local Self-Reliance on Twitter[48] and Facebook[49] and, for monthly updates on our work, sign-up[50] for our ILSR general newsletter.

  1. Senate Bill 0099:
  2. House Bill 0171:
  3. MD Delegate Shane Robinson:
  4. same legislation:
  5. Senate Bill 99:
  6. Senator Thomas Middleton (D-Charles):
  7. [Beginning at 00:30]:
  8. [Beginning at 04:00]:
  9. [Beginning at 07:49]:
  10. [Beginning at 10:03]:
  11. [Beginning at 11:11]:
  12. The American Biogas Council:
  13. Agricity LLC (dba Compost Cab):
  14. Chesapeake Bay Foundation:
  15. The John Hopkins Center for a Livable Future, Bloomberg School of Public Health:
  16. The Compost Crew:
  17. Greenbelters for Zero Waste:
  18. Institute for Local Self-Reliance:
  19. Maryland Horse Council:
  20. Montgomery County Food Council:
  21. Waste Neutral:
  22. unanimous vote of 11-0:
  23. House Bill 171:
  24. House Delegate Shane Robinson (D-Montgomery Village):
  25. Delegate Shane Robinson:
  26. [Beginning at 46:13]:
  27. Delegate Andrew Cassilly:
  28. [Beginning at 48:00]:
  29. [Beginning at 50:26]:
  30. [Beginning at 52:32]:
  31. [Beginning at 54:30]:
  32. [Beginning at 58:40]:
  33. [Beginning at 59:20]:
  34. 1:00:00 in the video:
  35. Agricity LLC (dba Compost Cab):
  36. American Biogas Council:
  37. The Compost Crew:
  38. Future Harvest, Chesapeake Alliance for Sustainable Agriculture:
  39. Greenbelters for Zero Waste:
  40. Gromax Organic Recycling:
  41. Institute for Local Self-Reliance:
  42. The John Hopkins Center for a Livable Future, Bloomberg School of Public Health:
  43. Maryland-Washington D.C. US Composting Council Chapter:
  44. Maryland Horse Council:
  45. Montgomery County Food Council:
  46. [Image]:
  48. Twitter:
  49. Facebook:
  50. sign-up:

Source URL:

The Power and Perils of Cooperatives – Episode 12 of the Building Local Power Podcast

by Nick Stumo-Langer | February 23, 2017 12:00 pm

Welcome to episode twelve of the Building Local Power podcast[1]. For full transcript of the podcast, click here[2].

In this episode, Christopher Mitchell, the director of ILSR’s Community Broadband Networks initiative, interviews Hannah Trostle and Karlee Weinmann, Research Associates for the Community Broadband Networks and Energy Democracy initiatives, respectively. The three discuss the cooperative model of ownership and how this model can enable investment in gigabit Internet connections for their member-owners, but also how they are subject to a low participation rates in their elections.

The trio details the challenges of cooperative ownership and the myriad of benefits for active and engaged cooperative boards and administration structures.

“There are co-ops out there that are finding ways to…have their members understand how solar can work for them,” says Karlee Weinmann on the benefits of cooperatives for renewable energy. “[They’re] finding ways to implement solar in a way that is financially feasible and financially beneficial.”


  1. Building Local Power podcast:
  2. here: #transcript
  3. [Image]:
  4. Play in new window:
  5. Download:
  6. Android:
  7. RSS:
  8. (more…):

Source URL:

Sherco Power Plant: The Wrong Project, for the Wrong Reasons, At a Big Cost

by Nick Stumo-Langer | February 22, 2017 2:00 pm

The proposed Sherco natural gas plant[1] bill will soon be at Minnesota Governor Mark Dayton’s desk, give him a call and tell him you oppose this billion-dollar boondoggle.

Call Gov. Mark Dayton at 651-201-3400 or email him at[2].

Read more below in the op-ed[3] that we submitted to the Minneapolis Star Tribune or in our original post excoriating the planned fossil fuel power plant[4].

Minneapolis Star Tribune[5] – February 13, 2017

Sherco power plant: The wrong project, for the wrong reasons, at a big cost

By John Farrell & Karlee Weinmann

A bipartisan group of state lawmakers, including Gov. Mark Dayton, last week endorsed Xcel Energy’s plan to build a new natural gas plant in Becker, Minn. What they’ve left out is that this project is a multibillion-dollar boondoggle.

Fortunately, there’s still time to stop it.

Led by Xcel and labor groups, proponents say the plan will safeguard jobs lost when Xcel shutters coal-fired generators at the site in the mid-2020s. But the new facility is projected to employ just 150 workers, roughly half the number currently employed by the coal operations. It’s hardly worth the $1 billion upfront price tag and billions more in fuel costs borne by ratepayers — especially when there are cheaper ways to protect the workers and generate the power.

Read the full story here.[6]

This article originally posted at[7]. For timely updates, follow John Farrell[8] or Karlee Weinmann[9] on Twitter or get the Energy Democracy weekly[10] update. (more…)[11]

  1. proposed Sherco natural gas plant:
  3. op-ed:
  4. original post excoriating the planned fossil fuel power plant:
  5. Minneapolis Star Tribune:
  6. Read the full story here.:
  8. John Farrell:
  9. Karlee Weinmann:
  10. Energy Democracy weekly:
  11. (more…):

Source URL:

Community Composters Gather at Conference in Los Angeles

by Linda Bilsens | February 10, 2017 4:20 pm

On January 24th, 2017, ILSR along with BioCycle[1] and the US Composting Council[2] (USCC) co-sponsored the 4th Cultivating Community Composting (CCC) Forum, held in conjunction with the USCC’s International Conference & Trade Show in Los Angeles, California. The Forum was preceded by a full-day Best Practices in Community Composting Workshop. The Workshop and Forum provided attendees a unique opportunity to network, share best practices, and build support for community scale composting. ILSR secured funding from a number of sponsors to support these events. A hearty thanks to 11th Hour Project[3], Food Waste Experts[4], ReoTemp Instruments[5], Sustainable Generation[6], BioBag[7], Green Mountain Technologies[8], O2 Compost[9], and EPA Region IV[10] for their generous support!  We provided scholarships of up to $500 for 42 community composters to attend. Check out presentations from the 2017 CCC Workshop and Forum here[11].

Rodette Jones (MD), Tracie Troxler (FL), Kat Nigro (NC), Molly Lindsay (NY) and Tiffany Bess (FL) share why they attended the 2017 USCC Conference in LA. Photo courtesy of USCC.

CCC 2017 served as a valuable reminder that community composters serve an integral and unique role in both the broader composting industry and the sustainable food movement. We are the social innovators and entrepreneurs that are collecting food waste by burning calories instead of fossil fuel[12], employing youth[13] and marginalized groups, and developing innovative data-sharing applications[14] and cooperative ownership structures[15]. We are the compost educators and facilitators that are building equity and power[16] in our communities from the ground up, by supporting businesses[17], schools[18], farmers[19], community centers[20], and other communities in need[21]. We are the front lines, grassroots, boots-on-the-ground that are cultivating awareness and demand for compost and its associated benefits. We are transforming landscapes, urban[22] and rural (and everything in between), by getting compost into the hands that feed the soil that feeds us[23].

The CCC Workshop brought together 60+ community composters from 17 states for one of the largest gathering of local-scale composters in history. It was a full-day, pre-conference event where community composters shared practices that work through both presentation and small group discussions. Attendees explored how to adapt the efforts and achievements of other programs for their communities and explored next steps to keep the momentum of the movement moving forward. Topics included: Key Ingredients of Community Composting; Small-Scale Composting Systems and Processing Best Management Practices; Hauling, Bike and Other Logistics; The Business of Community Composting; and a panel discussion on Community Engagement and Building Community Power via Community Composting. 

“This was so inspiring! It’s so easy to feel all alone in micro hauling & processing and it’s very refreshing to be with so many others in the same boat!”

– Meredith Danberg- Ficarelli (Common Ground Compost, New York NY)

Some key takeaways from the CCC Workshop:

Dustin Fedako of Compost Pedallers leads a breakout discussion on Marketing & Outreach at the 2017 CCC Workshop

The CCC Forum, which took place as a track in the broader USCC Conference, brought other composters, compost advocates and stakeholders to the discussion. This part of the event provided a number of community composters a national stage for their expertise, helping to make the case for partnerships between community composters and larger-scale haulers and composters, as well as government fiscal and regulatory support for community-scale composting systems. In the Forum Keynote, our local LA host community composter, Michael Martinez of LA Compost[25], told how he is using composting to empower the marginalized people of LA County, which if it were its own state, would be the 8th largest in the U.S. in terms of population. California produces a sizable majority of the country’s produce, and yet, according to Michael, the people living in LA County are often bypassed by the current food system even though they make up a lion’s share of its farm labor. 

Participants of the 2017 CCC Forum create a word cloud while answering the question, “How can strengthen the interconnection between community composters and larger-scale composters?” Photo courtesy of USCC.

In a session focused on how community composters drive local programs, Jennifer Mastalerz of Philly Compost[26] (community composter) and Tim Bennett of Bennett Compost[27] (mid-scale composter) discussed how they have a mutually beneficial partnership that makes their businesses stronger than if they were on their own. David Paull of Compost Wheels[28] explained how the combination of local YouthCorp members and individuals pulling themselves out of homelessness has become an unexpected, yet beautiful formula for successfully managing his food scrap collection routes. The CCC Forum wrapped up with a panel on how government policies can help grow community composting:

Panelists of the “Supporting a Distributed Composting Infrastructure: Dollars and Rules” session at the 2017 CCC Forum

To cap off an already successful and inspiring event, ILSR co-director and Compost Initiative director, Brenda Platt, was awarded the prestigious H. Clark Gregory Award[31] from the USCC, “for outstanding service to the composting industry through grassroots efforts.” After 30 years of service dedicated to fighting incinerators, expanding recycling, cultivating composting at all scales, and building community power from the ground up, we feel certain that Brenda could not have been more deserving of this honor.

Check out presentations from the 2017 CCC Workshop and Forum here[11].




Take a visual tour of CCC 2017 below:


Cultivating Community Composting Workshop & Forum - 2017






Subscribe to our Cultivating Community Composting mailing list

Follow the Institute for Local Self-Reliance on Twitter[32] and Facebook[33] and, for monthly updates on our work, sign-up[34] for our ILSR general newsletter.

  1. BioCycle:
  2. US Composting Council:
  3. 11th Hour Project:
  4. Food Waste Experts:
  5. ReoTemp Instruments:
  6. Sustainable Generation:
  7. BioBag:
  8. Green Mountain Technologies:
  9. O2 Compost:
  10. EPA Region IV:
  11. here:
  12. burning calories instead of fossil fuel:
  13. youth:
  14. data-sharing applications:
  15. cooperative ownership structures:
  16. building equity and power:
  17. businesses:
  18. schools:
  19. farmers:
  20. community centers:
  21. communities in need:
  22. urban:
  23. feed the soil that feeds us:
  24. glossary of social justice terms:
  25. LA Compost:
  26. Philly Compost:
  27. Bennett Compost:
  28. Compost Wheels:
  29. stakeholder webcast:
  30. “Hierarchy to Reduce Food Waste and Grow Community”:
  31. awarded the prestigious H. Clark Gregory Award:
  32. Twitter:
  33. Facebook:
  34. sign-up:

Source URL:

Bolstering Waste Recovery Through Model Legislation – Episode 11 of the Building Local Power Podcast

by Nick Stumo-Langer | February 9, 2017 12:00 pm

Welcome to episode eleven of the Building Local Power podcast[1]. For full transcript of the podcast, click here[2].

In this episode, Christopher Mitchell, the director of ILSR’s Community Broadband Networks initiative, interviews Brenda Platt, ILSR co-director and director of our Waste to Wealth initiative. The two discuss the history of ILSR’s Zero Waste work and how the conversation around composting and waste has changed in her 30 years at the Institute for Local Self-Reliance.

Platt is also working closely with Maryland legislators to implement laws that increase the percentage of waste diverted from landfills to create rich compost and increase economic development.

“One of the beauties of composting is that it can be small-scale, large-scale, and everything in between,” says Brenda Platt. “But we’ve been promoting communities to build small-scale, distributed infrastructure around composting with local partners such as residences, businesses, and schools.”


Here are Brenda’s recommendations to learn more about our composting work, please send any comments on the hierarchy (below) to[8]:

[9]Growing Local Fertility: A Guide To Community Composting[10]

by Brenda Platt, Institute for Local Self-Reliance; James McSweeney and Jenn Davis, Highfields Center for Composting


  1. Building Local Power podcast:
  2. here: #transcript
  3. [Image]:
  4. Play in new window:
  5. Download:
  6. Android:
  7. RSS:
  9. [Image]:
  10. Growing Local Fertility: A Guide To Community Composting:
  11. (more…):

Source URL:

Press Release: Brenda Platt Receives Major Composting Award for Grassroots Advocacy

by Nick Stumo-Langer | February 8, 2017 5:06 pm

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: Wednesday, February 8th

Contact: Nick Stumo-Langer,[1], 612-844-1330[2]

ILSR Co-Director Brenda Platt Receives Prestigious H. Clark Gregory Award from US Composting Council

LOS ANGELES – Brenda Platt, Institute for Local Self-Reliance (ILSR) co-director and director of ILSR’s Composting for Community initiative, was honored on Wednesday, January 25th, 2017, with the US Composting Council’s prestigious H. Clark Gregory Award[3], “for outstanding service to the composting industry through grassroots efforts.” The award came at the closing ceremony of the US Composting Council’s annual conference, this year held in Los Angeles.

Frank Franciosi, the US Composting Council’s executive director, presented the award, including notable past recipients. They include such outstanding grassroots composting leaders as: Alice Waters of the Chez Panisse Foundation, Will Allen of the Growing Power Farm, and Christine Datz-Romero of the Lower East Side Ecology Center.

“[Platt] began her career in the late 1980’s, successfully fighting dozens of mass-burn waste incineration plants planned across the country and promoting non-burn alternatives,” said Franciosi in his speech. “Brenda Platt has played a critical role in fostering the growing community composting movement, having co-hosted the National Cultivating Community Composting Forums she has brought together dozens of community composters from across the country,” he continued.

Franciosi concluded by imploring the audience to join him “in congratulating one of the hardest working women in our industry.”

“It is an incredible honor to work in an industry where you just absolutely love your job…an industry that addresses so many of the pressing issues of the day, whether it’s soil, climate, trash, food access, [or] food security,” said Platt in her remarks accepting the award. She concluded, “let’s go after that one trillion dollars in infrastructure, and let’s help build a diverse and distributed composting infrastructure.”

Photo Credit: US Composting Council[4]

For more information on the H. Clark Gregory award, see the US Composting Council’s website here:

For more information on our Composting work, visit:


The Institute for Local Self-Reliance (ILSR) is a 42-year-old national nonprofit research and educational organization. ILSR’s mission is to provide innovative strategies, working models and timely information to support strong, community rooted, environmentally sound and equitable local economies.[5] – Email[1] for press inquiries.

  2. 612-844-1330: tel:(612)%20844-1330
  3. H. Clark Gregory Award:
  4. US Composting Council:

Source URL:

Despite Intense Bipartisan Opposition, Virginia’s Anti-Municipal Broadband HB 2108 Passes

by Lisa Gonzalez | February 8, 2017 12:00 pm

On February 7th, the Virginia House of Delegates voted 72 – 24 to pass HB 2108[1], otherwise known as “Byron’s Bad Broadband Bill.” The text of the bill[2] was a revised version substituted by Del. Kathy Byron after Governor Terry McAuliffe[3], local leaders across the state[4], and constituents very handily let her know that they did not want the bill to move forward. The bill now moves to the Senate.

Byron’s original “Broadband Deployment Act” has been whittled down to a bill that still adheres to its main purpose – to protect the telephone companies that keep Byron comfortable with campaign cash[5]. There is no mention of deployment in the text of the new draft, but it does dictate that information from publicly owned networks be made open so anyone, including national providers, can use it to their advantage.

According to Frank Smith[6], President and CEO of the Roanoke Valley Broadband Authority (RVBA),

…Virginia Freedom of Information Act stipulations already codified in the Wireless Services Authority Act are sufficient and the new requirements in Byron’s bill could require the broadband authority to reveal proprietary information about its customers.

“There’s nothing hidden under the table,” Smith said. “The Wireless Services Authority Act is sufficient because you all did your job in 2003.”

The broadband authority’s rates, books and board meetings already are open to the public.

Private providers would never be required to publicize information that could jeopardize their operations. The objective here is to discourage public private partnerships and prevent local governments from investing in the type of infrastructure that would attract new entrants into the region.

Not “Us” vs. “Them”

At a time when everything seems political, both Republicans and Democrats appreciate that this is not a political issue. The bill’s new language, terrible as it is, passed through the House Labor and Commerce Committee on February 2[7]. The vote in the committee was close – 11 supported the bill and 9 opposed it. Six Republicans opposed the bill while two Democrats supported it.

Likewise, when the bill passed in the House yesterday, Delegates voting against passage were 13 Republicans and 11 Democrats.


Better connectivity is not a partisan issue but a matter of economic development, educational opportunities, public savings, quality of life, and local control. Rural communities that have been passed over by big corporate providers understand those reasons but AT&T doesn’t see it that way. To big the incumbent telephone company that wants to maintain its monopoly with slow DSL service in rural Virginia, it’s about maintaining a monopoly. Once the word gets out that municipal networks offer the fast affordable, reliable connectivity that local communities need, it’s only a matter of time before they lose their grip on that monopoly.

The best way to protect their position is through the Virginia General Assembly. They’ve been at it for years; it works in about 20 states[8].

Speaking Misinformation Through A Delegate

When Byron brought the new language to the House floor, she presented a speech that attacked municipal networks and used the same talking points we’ve heard over and over again. In fact, her speech was almost good enough to have been written by an AT&T lobbyist.

In the video of her presentation of the revised bill to the body (available below), she distorts the facts and relies on the same old examples from a very short list of municipal networks that have had financial problems, or are being privatized. Byron’s speech takes on the patronizing tone we so often hear from the big corporate providers as they purport to “protect the tax payers” while their true motives are to protect their monopolies. Watching the video is a good lesson in preparedness because it’s straight out of the anti-muni playbook.

Christopher summed up the situation:

“Once again, we see a state legislature prioritizing the anti-competitive instincts of a few telephone companies over the need for more investment and the desire for more choices in rural communities across their state. Virginia’s communities need more investment and more choices from ISPs, not new barriers crafted by powerful lobbyists in Richmond.”

The bill now goes to the Senate. View Delegate Byron’s testimony from the bill’s engrossment, below:

This article is a part of MuniNetworks. The original piece can be found here[9].

  1. voted 72 – 24 to pass HB 2108:
  2. text of the bill:
  3. Governor Terry McAuliffe:
  4. local leaders across the state:
  5. comfortable with campaign cash:
  6. According to Frank Smith:
  7. passed through the House Labor and Commerce Committee on February 2:
  8. it works in about 20 states:
  9. here:

Source URL:

Community Development Block Grants Aid Connectivity In Nelson County, VA

by ILSR | February 6, 2017 5:26 am

This article was written by Community Broadband Networks initiative intern, Kate Svitavsky[1].

Publicly owned Internet infrastructure is typically funded with[2] revenue grants, interdepartmental loans, or through avoided costs at the local level. Part of the planning and infrastructure costs, however, can sometimes be covered by state and federal grants known as Community Development Block Grants (CDBG). Nelson County, Virginia[3], leveraged CDBG to expand their fiber network and maximize benefits to the community.

CDBG funds, are distributed to 1,200 units of state and local government by the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and can go toward a variety of infrastructure and development purposes. When communities consider ways to use CDBG funding, they can get long-term valuable benefits by directing those funds toward Internet infrastructure.

Nelson County Broadband

Currently, the network has 39 miles of middle mile fiber and laterals. Nelson County began preparing for the network in 2007, when it received an initial planning grant of CDBG funds. The grant allowed the county to develop a project which improved their eligibility for federal funding from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA).

They applied and in 2010 for stimulus funding and received a $1.8 million grant from the Broadband Technology Opportunities Program (BTOP) to build out a middle mile network. In the first phase of their construction, the county used the BTOP funding and approximately $456,000 in required local matching funds to deploy 31 miles of fiber backbone. The second phase added another eight miles to the network in 2015, funded in part by $200,000 of CDBG funding; the community has also contributed about $690,000 in other local funds.

“It becomes a win-win for residents and businesses and for service providers,” said Alan Patrick[4], Chair of the Nelson County Broadband Authority. “Residents and businesses have an opportunity to receive broadband access, which may have not been available prior to the county building infrastructure in the area, and it is also a benefit to the service providers.”

As of November 2016, 240 businesses, residents, and organizations subscribe to Nelson’s network, which serves the communities of Lovingston, Nellysford, Colleen, Woods Mill, Martins Store, and Avon. Multiple ISPs operate on the open access network[5], including Nelson Cable, SCS Broadband, and Ting Internet.

The Broadband Authority hopes to add another 52 customers[6] in two additional neighborhoods in the near future. They retained a consulting firm that recently provided[7] a broadband build out plan. The Authority is still considering the recommendations that suggest adding another 75 miles of fiber. The expansion would reach the towns of Faber, Shipman, Piney River, Tyro, Arrington, Afton, and Wintergreen. The estimated cost of the expansion is approximately $7.8 million.

About CDBG

Congress created the CDBG program in 1974 as a way to help communities revitalize neighborhoods, requiring the majority of funds to benefit low-to-moderate income (LMI) individuals, families, and areas.


In 2015, HUD distributed over $3 billion in CDBG funds to units of government including cities, counties, and 49 states. A funding formula, which takes into account population trends and indicators of need such as housing age and poverty levels, dictates what level of CDBG support HUD offers recipients. If communities aren’t populous enough to receive funding on their own, they are eligible to apply for CDBG funds through their state CDBG authority. (more…)[8]

  1. Kate Svitavsky:
  2. is typically funded with:
  3. Nelson County, Virginia:
  4. said Alan Patrick:
  5. open access network:
  6. hopes to add another 52 customers:
  7. that recently provided:
  8. (more…):

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Thanks to Co-op, Small Iowa Town Goes Big On Solar

by Karlee Weinmann | February 3, 2017 12:52 pm

It’s hard to imagine a place more bucolic than the rural farming communities clustered around Kalona, Iowa — the kind of place that for generations has embodied conservative, blue-collar values woven throughout rural America.

Nestled in the gently rolling hills of southeastern Iowa, it’s at first difficult to tell what sets Kalona apart from countless similar places on the Midwestern landscape. Small towns like these form the backbone of a region whose economy depends on a rich farming tradition, even well into the 21st century.

But Kalona’s charm doesn’t obscure the innovation that makes it a national leader in clean power generation. In this small community, where many Amish and Mennonite families shun electricity and cars, solar power has proliferated. In fact, the Kalona area is a surprising national leader in solar power generation.

Sparking Solar

The local solar movement traces back to Farmers Electric Cooperative, the utility serving 605 households and businesses in Kalona and its surrounding villages. Per capita, Farmers Electric generates 3,719 watts of solar power per subscriber — 76 percent more than the next utility[1]! The utility, owned by its customers, offers a window into how community-minded thinking can shape sensible energy policy and reinvent the local economy.

Eight years after Farmers Electric launched a fierce campaign to integrate renewables into its energy mix, it’s obvious that solar has caught on. Skeptics were slow to opt in to clean power in the beginning. But now, in Kalona, solar power is the norm. They line the roofs of farmhouses and other local businesses, and ground-mounted arrays power other agribusiness operations.

What started with a single pilot array at a local high school has grown into a robust distributed generation network including farmers, homeowners and business owners cashing in on clean energy. Even as customers save money, more of their energy dollars stay within the community, boosting the local economy.

See our video[2] of Farmers Electric excellent solar reality:

Farmers Electric remains an outlier in promoting solar so aggressively, but its approach provides a blueprint for other power providers.

“Solar is like the electric car. I think people see it as the future, basically, in technology,” said Warren McKenna, who heads up Farmers Electric and spearheaded its solar plan. “If you make it easy, I think they’re going to grab a hold of it. It’s been very, very popular with our customers.”

There is no single path to unlocking the economic and community benefits seeded by solar, captured widely in Farmers Electric’s territory. Still, the unexpected success in bringing widespread solar generation to a tiny farming community about 30 miles south of Iowa City offers a pivotal lesson: it all comes down to the money.

The Pitch

Farmers Electric harnessed the power of the dollar to gets its solar campaign off the ground, and keep it going. In order for the program to succeed, McKenna knew early on that it had to provide a financial boost to co-op members — the environmental benefits, he says, were an unspoken cherry on top. (more…)[3]

  1. 76 percent more than the next utility:
  2. See our video:
  3. (more…):

Source URL:

“Why Local Solutions?” Internet Access Fact Sheet

by Lisa Gonzalez | February 1, 2017 6:01 am

The next time you’re attending a city council meeting, attending a local broadband initiative, or just chatting with neighbors about better local connectivity, take a few copies of our Why Local Solutions?[1] fact sheet.


Our new one-pager addresses three main reasons why local telecommunications authority is so important:

In addition to providing some basic talking points to get the conversation moving, the fact sheet offers resources to guide you to more detailed information on publicly owned Internet networks. This resource is well paired with our other recent fact sheet, More than just Facebook[3]. You’ve already started to get people interested in all the advantages of high-quality connectivity, now show them how local self-reliance it the most direct route to better access.

Download Why Local Solutions? fact sheet[4].

Other Fact Sheets At Your Fingertips

Fact sheets are a useful tool for getting your point across without overloading the recipient with too much information. They can easily be digested and carried to meetings with elected officials and often are just the right amount of information to pique someone’s curiosity.

Check out our other fact sheets[5].

This article is a part of MuniNetworks. The original piece can be found here[6]

  1. Why Local Solutions?:
  2. [Image]:
  3. More than just Facebook:
  4. Download Why Local Solutions? fact sheet:
  5. our other fact sheets:
  6. here:

Source URL:

Tennessee Broadband Bill Is A Jackpot For AT&T, Junk For EPB

by Lisa Gonzalez | January 27, 2017 11:19 am

Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam doesn’t want the public’s money to pay for publicly owned Internet infrastructure. He has no problem, however, writing a $45 million check backed by taxpayers and payable to the likes of AT&T in Tennessee.

“A Little Song, A Little Dance, A Little Seltzer Down Your Pants”

On Wednesday, Haslam introduced the “Tennessee Broadband Accessibility Act,”[1] another state sponsored handout to the national Internet Service Providers who have made countless broken promises to expand to rural areas. The bill contains some provisions dressed up to look like measures that make big strides for the state, and will be helpful, but it’s not ground breaking.

The bill lifts existing state restrictions on electric cooperatives that may wish to offer retail Internet access to members. The state restrictions on co-ops are dubious anyway and could be challenged under federal law. For the state’s electric cooperatives that reach all over the rural areas, the bill is welcome, but communities near Chattanooga’s EPB gets the short end of the stick.

EPB, Chattanooga’s Municipal Electric Utility, has advocated for several years to expand beyond their service territory. Neighboring communities, such as Bradley[2] and Polk Counties, need better connectivity because the national providers don’t consider their regions a good investment. Nevertheless, state law prohibits EPB from expanding to them and this legislation won’t change that.

“Don’t Confuse The Conversation”

State Sen. Janice Bowling, R-Tullahoma, where the local municipal network has jump started economic development and improved the quality of life, pointed out the problem[3] in Haslam’s shell game legislation:

Bowling said the measure only goes halfway in removing regulatory limits that she said now limit fiber optic service in much of Tennessee “and keeps too many rural citizens from participating in the 21st century digital economy.”

“I’m certainly glad that electric co-ops will be able to retail fiber services under this measure and I think that will be significant,” she said. ” I am amazed that some of the giant, investor-owned telecoms have been able to confuse the conversation by trying to make it about what is fair for the provider, instead of focusing on what is right for the consumer.”

Bowling has introduced legislation to repeal the state’s law that prevents municipal electric utilities that offer connectivity from expanding. The measure has had wide constituent support, as many of these efforts do, but elected officials at the state level who may be swayed by campaign donations are harder to convince.

att-death-star.PNGHere, AT&T, Have Some Money!

The Times Free Press reported[4]:

Asked why he didn’t include EPB and other municipal electric services, Haslam said, “You have a situation where we’d much rather have private providers rather than government-subsidized entities have the first crack at getting that done.”

AT&T has collected billions in taxpayer subsidies over the years, and is about to receive a fair chunk of another $45 million.

Ignoring Sage Advice

Last summer, the state’s own Department of Economic and Community Development (TNECD) released a study[5] that recommended eliminating the barriers that prevent entities like EPB from expanding. Haslam chose to dismiss his own agency’s recommendation to keep EPB corralled and AT&T happy.

AT&T has lobbied hard to keep EPB contained and appears to have won this round. To date, the national provider has had no interest in updating service outside Chattanooga. They know they won’t have to compete with EPB now, and still have no motivation to spend any of that taxpayer money in the region. The people in Bradley and Polk Counties, who have held public meetings[6], passed resolutions[7], and practically begged the state to allow EPB serve their community now know that their Governor chooses AT&T lobbyists over them.

This article is a part of MuniNetworks. The original piece can be found here[8].

  1. “Tennessee Broadband Accessibility Act,”:
  2. Bradley:
  3. pointed out the problem:
  4. Times Free Press reported:
  5. released a study:
  6. held public meetings:
  7. passed resolutions:
  8. here:

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Trump’s FCC Pick Bodes Poorly for Net Neutrality & Broadband Competition

by Christopher | January 26, 2017 6:00 pm

StateScoop[1] – January 26, 2017

Commentary: The chairman’s track record of opposition to equitable telecom policy could lead to fewer choices in the market and the upending of one of the internet’s most treasured aspects — but the fight’s not over yet.

Donald Trump picked his FCC chairman much earlier than anyone expected, though Ajit Pai is not a very big surprise. Formerly a lawyer for Verizon, Pai has been a constant voice in favor of large incumbent cable and telephone positions, especially opposing the Open Internet Order, known more commonly as network neutrality[2].

He has served on the FCC for four years, giving a strong sense of what his priorities are. In speaking to staff on his first day, he focused on the digital divide[3] but offered few clues as to what he might be planning to improve access aside from cutting regulations — as though the only thing holding back the nation’s ISPs from offering high-quality lower-cost access in low-income neighborhoods was prohibitions against the practice.

Pai opposed efforts to help low-income families access the internet via the Lifeline program, advocating instead for a cap that would create a waiting list rather than covering all qualifying families. And more telling, he actually opposed efforts to rein in the ripoff charges in many prisons, where the incarcerated have to pay incredibly inflated rates[4] to make phone calls. For those who don’t care if people in prison are ripped off, consider that the amount of contact a prisoner has with family is correlated with recidivism. That means you are paying higher taxes to house prisoners so CenturyLink and others can charge them a buck a minute or more to talk to their families.

Pai’s opposition to equity extends beyond individual programs and into the content of the internet itself. Pai has proven himself an opponent of net neutrality and said in December that its days are numbered under Trump.

To be fair, Pai has claimed at times to adhere to some net neutrality principles — such as no blocking of websites. But to be honest, he has also consistently argued that the FCC should not have the power to effectively enforce such rules.

The issue with Pai, and more broadly among the Republicans running the federal government these days, is that they believe the market for internet service works well. In fact, the party line seems to be that if there is a problem, it is the possible need for even more consolidation — AT&T buying Time Warner properties like HBO and CNN, for instance.

The belief is that if one provider engages in anti-consumer behavior, the market will correct it. It’s a great theory, but I’m not exactly sure where it gets the average American living in a large urban area. I live in St. Paul, Minnesota, and if I get annoyed at the Comcast bandwidth cap, my other option is a much slower CenturyLink DSL connection. I can say from my own infuriating personal experience with these providers that this “market” is not self-correcting.

Many claim that I have more options. Any number of think tanks that get checks from the big cable and telephone companies are happy to remind me that I could get even slower service from Verizon Wireless over LTE, though the cost of blowing through my monthly data cap would exceed my mortgage. Even statistics collected by the FCC or the NTIA support the view that my neighborhood is full of choices, but it’s an illusion. It’s just that there is a business corridor in my census block that has a few more choices, so “Hey, presto,” I too have more choices officially! But not really. (more…)[5]

  1. StateScoop:
  2. network neutrality:
  3. the digital divide:
  4. incredibly inflated rates:
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Preemption, Local Authority, & Municipal Broadband – Episode 10 of the Building Local Power Podcast

by Nick Stumo-Langer | January 26, 2017 12:00 pm

Welcome to episode ten of the Building Local Power podcast[1]. For full transcript of the podcast, click here[2].

In this episode, John Farrell, the director of ILSR’s Energy Democracy initiative, interviews Christopher Mitchell (our usual podcast host) and Lisa Gonzalez of our Community Broadband Networks initiative. The three discuss the power of municipal broadband networks, how the power held in cities is integral to these projects, and the barriers put in place by cable monopolies to prevent these networks.

Gonzalez and Mitchell dive deep into a few models that have benefitted their communities across the nation.

“These big cable and telephone companies are against competition,” says Chris Mitchell. “For them, they’ve grown up in monopoly environments. They are opposed to private-sector competition and public-sector competition.”


Here are Christopher and Lisa’s reading/watching recommendations:

From Lisa: Genius on Hold[8] is available on Netflix, currently:

From Chris:

The Deal of the Century: The Breakup of AT&T[9] by Steve Coll, Atheneum

Be sure to read up on some of our Community Broadband Network initiative’s other work, as well as a previous Building Local Power episode Christopher and Lisa spoke on:

If you missed our podcast make sure to bookmark our Building Local Power [13]Podcast Homepage[14]. Please give us a review and rating on iTunes or wherever you subscribe to podcasts. (more…)[15]

  1. Building Local Power podcast:
  2. here: #transcript
  3. [Image]:
  4. Play in new window:
  5. Download:
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  8. Genius on Hold:
  9. The Deal of the Century: The Breakup of AT&T:
  10. Community Broadband Networks Map:
  11. Broadband Bits Podcast:
  12. Broadband Boosted at the Ballot, An Election Wrap-Up:
  13. Building Local Power :
  14. Podcast Homepage:
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Taking on the Billionaires

by David Morris | January 26, 2017 11:53 am

Combatting defeatism may be our single most important psychological objective in the wake of the election. We need to revive the spirit embodied in Barack Obama’s vague but hopeful campaign slogan in 2008, “Yes We Can.” At the federal level this is a time to expose, to educate and to resist. But at the state and local level we can act proactively to fashion strategies that both embrace progressive values and directly benefit those who mistakenly voted for Donald Trump as an economic savior. This is the first in a series of pieces focusing on what can be done.

The Giveaway

Over the next 6-12 months Congress will almost certainly give the richest 1 percent of the population an income tax gift totaling some $75-150 billion. The 1 percent, with annual incomes averaging $1.3 million will capture 47 percent of the tax cuts for an average annual tax saving of $214,000 each, the non-partisan Tax Policy Center[1] estimates based on Trump’s proposal, which does not differ dramatically from that of the House Republicans[2].

The top 0.1 percent, a population comprised of only 117,000 taxpayers who earn, on average $37 million a year will see their tax bill slashed by $1.3 million. The top .001 percent of taxpayers, fewer than 1400 individuals, who earn a dizzying $160 million annually, may see their bank accounts swell by some $10 million.

Profligacy is reserved for the few. For the many this Administration and Congress will be downright tightfisted. The bottom 20 percent of the population, some 80 million low income and working class people, will receive on average a $100 income tax reduction. By one estimate[3] that, given the whole package of proposed changes, almost 9 million families could see their taxes could actually increase.

Adding insult to injury the Trump tax plan would not only give the wealthy far larger dollar benefits but it actually reduces taxes on the wealthy by a greater percentage.

The Response[4]

It will be virtually impossible to stop this unprecedented giveaway. But states can fight back. They can raise state income taxes on the rich in proportion to the reductions at the federal level, diverting as much of the massive federal tax gift as possible from the pockets of the 1 percent into public investments, public services and support for the 99 percent.

State-based campaigns that focus on progressive income taxes will illuminate the dangers of the increasing concentration of private wealth and its relationship to the increasing impoverishment of public services, wage stagnation and widespread privation. They can address fundamental questions. How are we connected? Do we have a responsibility to one another and to future generations?

Class Matters

Those who now run Washington insist the “me” should take precedence over the “we,” that the private is superior to the public. Michigan Republican State House Speaker Tom Leonard, who proposes eliminating the state’s income tax, already the lowest in the country, justified[5] his stance by invoking a common meme, “This is the people’s money, not ours.” We need to make clear that, given the current distribution of tax breaks and the unprecedented concentration of wealth, the attitude of the 1 percent might more accurately be summarized as, “This is our money, not the peoples.”

Despite the election of Donald Trump, a clear message of this election was that the American people believe that class matters. They are outraged that the top 1 percent have captured[6] 99 percent of all new income generated since 2009 and amassed more wealth[7] than 95 percent of the population. They understand the inherent unfairness and danger when 400 individuals have more wealth than 150 million Americans.

Bernie Sanders emphasized this unfairness and promoted a steep increase in taxes on millionaires and came within a whisker of being the Democrat’s nominee. Hillary Clinton favored raising taxes on the rich and won nationally by almost 3 million votes. And at least one pre-election survey by the Rand Corporation found that over half of those intending to vote for Trump supported increasing taxes on the wealthy.

The Consequences

The tax gift to the rich will demand real sacrifice from the poor and the middle class—more closed state parks, fewer health services, overcrowded classrooms, more prison unrest. The House tax plan will reduce federal revenues by $3 trillion in the first 10 years; Trump’s plan will reduce them by $9.5 trillion according[8] to the Tax Policy Center. The Administration appears to agree with the higher estimate given that Trump’s staff proposes[9] federal spending cuts of $10.5 trillion over the next decade.

The brunt of these cuts will occur in the non-defense part of the discretionary budget, spending on Medicaid, science, veterans’ benefits, food stamps, job training, health research, disaster assistance, housing assistance, national parks, roads and transit will suffer disproportionately. Indeed, Trump proposed[10] during the campaign an increase in military aid to be “fully offset” by reduced spending on social insurance and public works.

These reductions will put even more pressure on already strapped state and municipal budgets. Federal government spending comprises, on average 30 percent of state revenues. This varies from a high of 43 percent in Mississippi to a low of 21 percent in Hawaii. Red states, where politicians rail against federal spending, are more dependent on Washington than blue states.   A recent Associated Press survey found that 33 states are currently dealing with a budget shortfall or expect to confront one in the coming fiscal year.

Why Raise State Income Taxes?


The premise of state-based campaigns focusing on fairness and the obligations of citizenship is that the major problem is not a stagnating economy. The economy is growing. The problem is that all the benefits of that growth are going to a tiny portion of the population while the rest of us experience stagnating wages, declining benefits, and dwindling public services.

Within states the income dynamic mirrors that of the nation as a whole. According to the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities[11] (CBPP) in Arizona, the top 1 percent increased their incomes by 73 percent while the bottom 99 percent saw their incomes drop by 6 percent. In Washington the difference was 142 percent to 1 percent; in Wisconsin it was 120 percent to 4 percent and in Indiana 76 percent to zero.

Raising state income taxes and thereby diverting federal tax breaks to the wealth into state spending will arguably benefit not only that state, but also the nation. The majority of federal discretionary spending goes to the military, and in the future its proportion will likely increase. Meanwhile all state spending goes to health, education, welfare and transportation. The economic impact of military spending is far less than that of non-defense spending. Each military dollar grows the economy by 60-70 cents, according to research[12] by Robert Barro and Charles Redlick.   On the other hand, each federal dollar spent on food stamps grows the economy by $1.74 and by $1.36 if spent on general aid to state governments according[13] to Moody’s Mark Zandi.

State campaigns can also make a strong case that giving money to the rich is an ineffective and inefficient way to boost the economy.

Giving money to the rich has a similar low-yielding dynamic to spending it on the military. Since the rich spend much less of a tax cut than those of lower incomes tax cuts for high earners boost employment less than those for low earners. An analysis[14] of the 2008 Bush stimulus cuts found that for every $1 in cuts, high income households spent 77 cents while low income spent $1.28 (The authors explain that a stimulus can increase average total spending by more than its own value, if it tips the balance for enough people to make large purchases like computers, cars that are purchased on credit.)

Taxing Labor and Capital

Congress wants to cut the tax on capital, which because of past tax cuts, already is taxed at about half the rate as income from labor. Most of us earn our income by working. The rich are different. They earn most of their money from capital, not labor. In 2007, wages and salaries accounted[15] for only 40 percent of the income of the richest 1 percent, according to Professor Alexander Hicks. Sixty percent came from profits, dividends, interest, rent and capital gains. For the richest 0.1 percent, the figure is almost 70 percent.

Those who favor even further cuts in taxes on capital argue this will increase private savings, which will increase investment. The evidence is that it will do neither. Indeed, the Congressional Research Service[16] has examined the issue from the opposite direction addressing the question, “What would be the impact of increasing capital gains tax rates?” It concludes that doing so “appear(s) to increase public saving and may have little or no effect on private saving. Consequently, capital gains tax increases likely have a positive overall impact on national saving and investment.”

Most states tax income from capital at the same rate as income from labor. Thus raising the state income tax will raise the state tax on capital gains. In a state like California, the top tax rate on income from capital, at 13.3 percent, nearly that of the federal rate, if Republican tax proposals become law.

The False Benefit of State Tax Cuts

State tax cuts do not stimulate economic growth. They generate deficits, which because of the states’ constitutional requirement to balance their budgets, results in reduced public spending, which itself reduces economic growth. According to economist Robert Lynch,[17] “there is little evidence that state and local tax cuts—when paid for by reducing public services—stimulate economic activity or create jobs…”

Researchers at the Urban Institute and Brookings Institution conclude[18], “We find that states have no good reasons to believe that cuts in income tax rates will bring the desired benefits. Yet, states continue to erode their tax bases in the name of economic growth during a time when few states can afford to cut services, such as education and infrastructure repair that are critical for both businesses and households.”

As Michael Leachman and Michael Mazerov of CBPP point out[19], the historical evidence is compelling. In the 1990s states with the biggest income tax cuts experienced job growth during the next economic cycle at an average rate only one-third as large as states with less significant or no cuts.   From 2000 to 2007 four of the six states that reduced personal income taxes significantly saw their share of national employment decline. (The other two states are major oil and natural gas producers.) Since 2010, four of the five states that have enacted the largest personal income tax cuts have had slower job growth afterwards than has the nation as a whole.

Kansas is the poster child for this dynamic. After its legislature slashed personal income taxes in 2012, state revenue decreased by $1 billion a year. Newly elected Governor Sam Brownback insisted, “Our new pro-growth tax policy will be like a shot of adrenaline into the heart of the Kansas economy.” Instead, since December 2012, Kansas experienced job growth of 2.4 percent compared to 6.9 percent in the rest of the nation.

Some argue that raising taxes on the rich will lead them to leave the state, resulting in a net loss in state revenue. The empirical evidence contradicts that argument.  An analysis of New Jersey, a good test case because the tax increase there was large (from 6.37 to 8.97 percent) and many New Jersey residents can easily move to neighboring states, New York, Pennsylvania, Connecticut without changing where they work found little movement. Charles Varner and Cristobal Young of Stanford found[20] that only 80 of the roughly 40,000 people who earned over $500,000 a year left New Jersey.   Professor Varner observes, “the loss in revenues … is very small compared to the revenue gain.”

After an extensive review of the literature, Mazerov concludes[21], “No state has ever lost revenue by raising taxes on rich people.”

A state-based campaign could personalize the impact of inequitable tax cuts and the resulting inequitable spending cuts. It could focus on the meaningless of additional money for billionaires and the centrality of money for a growing number of us.

Consider what has happened in Oklahoma. Oklahoma[22] reduced its income taxes, resulting in over $1 billion a year in reduced state revenues. The wealthiest 1 percent of households cumulatively received nearly the same share of the tax cuts as the bottom 80 percent. The median Oklahoma household saw tax reductions of $228, compared to $15,519 for the average household in the top 1 percent. The bottom 20 percent of households received an average of just $4 per year.

While gaining virtually nothing from the tax cuts, the vast majority suffered from the accompanying spending reductions. The state’s Medicaid agency eliminated dental services for low-income adults.

More than 7,300 families are on a waiting list for home and community-based services for those with developmental disabilities, and the wait has extended to 10 years. The number of teachers decreased, class sizes grew, and class offerings and programs were eliminated.   An acute teacher recruitment and retention crisis has forced districts across the state to issue emergency certifications to under-qualified teachers or leave positions unfilled. Oklahoma’s correctional facilities are operating at more than 10 percent above inmate capacity but with 30 percent less staffing, creating threats to the safety of staff, prisoners, and the public.

State Income Taxes: The Lay of the Land

[23]In the 1970’s, on average, states raised their income tax rates. In 1980 they were two times higher than sales tax rates. Beginning in the 1980s, however, states consistently lowered income taxes while raising sales taxes. Today, according to Elizabeth McNichol[24] of CBPP, the median state sales tax rate is equal to the median state top income tax rate.


The result has been to make state and local taxes, on the whole, regressive. The share of income paid by the poorest 20 percent is twice that of the richest 1 percent. Unsurprisingly, the disparity is widest in states without an income tax. The Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy reports[25] that Washington’s working class pays seven times more taxes, as a share of income, than its super-wealthy. Maine and Minnesota’s tax structures come closest to treating the poor the same as the rich. In fact, Maine’s recently passed income tax surcharge on the wealthy may make it the only state that has a progressive tax system when all state and local taxes are included.



Typically, personal income taxes generate one third of state revenues in states that have an income tax. As noted above, federal spending accounts for another 30 percent of state revenues.

[26]Forty-three states impose an income tax. Seven impose no income taxes (AK, FL, NV, SD, TX, WA and WY). Eight states have flat taxes (CO, IL, IN, MA, MI, NC, PA, UT).

Top marginal tax rates for states imposing an income tax vary by a factor of three, ranging from a low of 4.25 percent in Michigan and 4.54 percent in Arizona to 10.15 percent in Maine and 13.3 percent in California.

A History of Failure and Success

Can a campaign focusing on fairness, equity, and responsibility win? The signs are mixed.

Between 2000 and 2009 10 states raised[27] income taxes on the wealthy. Between 2005 and 2015 about a dozen decreased them. In some cases the same state both raised and lowered income tax rates. New York, Wisconsin, New Jersey and Maine fall in that category.



In 2012, by a wide margin Californians voted to raise top tax rates by 30 percent. (Only 3 percent of taxpayers are affected.) In 2016 they voted to extend that tax hike.

In 2016, the people of Maine voted narrowly to approve a 40 percent hike in their top tax rate despite the opposition of the Governor and most political leaders. The increase will raise $142 million the first year and $12 million additionally each year thereafter.

Both California and Maine’s initiatives dedicated the new money to education.

On the other hand, in 2010 Washingtonians decisively defeated an initiative to introduce a state income tax for the first time, initially imposed just on the rich. In 2011 Colorado voters just as decisively rejected an initiative to raise the income tax despite the increased revenue being dedicated to education. (In 2016 an initiative petition, targeting a modest income tax increase restricted to the rich wasn’t submitted in time.)

Constitutional barriers will pose high barriers to progressive tax reform in some states. This appears to be the case in Illinois and may be the case in Colorado. Michigan’s 1963 state constitution flatly states, “No income tax graduated as to rate or base shall be imposed by the state or any of its subdivisions.” Louisiana, Oklahoma and California require a two-thirds favorable vote in the legislature to raise taxes, although the question can be put on the ballot by petition.

The Changing Landscape

State campaigns may be aided by the changing landscape of tax reform. In the face of deteriorating roads and overcrowded schools, even those who ideologically favor reducing taxes are conceding that increased revenues are needed.  And drastic cuts in federal aid will exacerbate the problems faced by state legislators. Currently they almost always favor increasing sales taxes. For example, in recent years some 20 states have raised gas taxes to pay for sorely need infrastructure. Nevertheless, once the conversation focuses on how to tax rather than whether to tax, the discussion, but once the tax taboo is overcome, the conversation about equity and the income tax may be facilitated.

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo is promoting a tax hike for millionaires to pay for the states $3.5 billion budget deficit. Montana’s Governor Steve Bullock similarly proposes a tax hike on the wealthy. Washington Governor Jay Inslee advocates a tax on capital gains. Alaskan Governor Bill Walker raised the possibility of a new state income tax to pay for that state’s large budget deficit, although he recently backed off from that proposal.

Voters may be showing their dissatisfaction with continual tax cuts that result in deteriorating public services.  Even in Red states. In November 2016 the Republican voters of Kansas declared their frustration with state policies that consistently cut public services to reduce deficits caused by tax giveaways to the rich. The Atlantic summarized[29] some aspects of that dissatisfaction, “Moderate Republican candidates ousted 14 conservative state legislators allied with the governor in primary elections across the state, while anti-Brownback contenders won nominations for open seats in another seven races.”

People who ideologically oppose taxes often change their minds when their car hits a deep pothole. Or when the response time for 911 calls significantly lengthens. Or when their kids can no longer attend after school activities. Or when state parks are closed.

Private splendor and public squalor has never been more evident. While the recent election gave federal power to those who would widen the gap, state and local governments, the governments closest to the people, are where increasing needs, the perilous state of public services and the growing disparity between the super-wealthy and the rest of us, may offer fertile ground for progressive strategies that largely benefit those who voted for Trump.

Sign-up for our monthly Public Good Newsletter[30] and follow ILSR on Twitter[31] and Facebook[32].

  1. Tax Policy Center:
  2. House Republicans:
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  7. wealth: http://The%25201%2520percent%2520has%252035.6%2520percent%2520of%2520all%2520private%2520wealth,%2520more%2520than%2520the%2520bottom%252095%2520percent%2520combined.%2520%2509%2509The%2520400%2520wealthiest%2520individuals%2520on%2520the%2520Forbes%2520400%2520list%2520have%2520more%2520wealth%2520than%2520the%2520bottom%2520150%2520million%2520Americans.
  8. according:
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“More Than Just Facebook” Internet Connectivity Fact Sheet

by Lisa Gonzalez | January 26, 2017 11:49 am

Our newest fact sheet, More than just Facebook[1], provides an overview on how Internet access and fast, affordable, reliable connectivity reaches most aspects of our lives. We provide statistics on economic development, education, and methods of delivering Internet access. This fact sheet is a good introductory tool that points out how we’ve Internet access is much more than just social media.

We also offer some explanations of concepts that may not be familiar to people who don’t work in the telecommunications field or advocate for municipal networks. This fact sheet is a tool that lays out what publicly owned Internet infrastructure and better connectivity can mean for your community.

Share it with friends, relatives, and your elected officials who might wonder if they could do more than “Like” pithy posts if they had better connectivity.


Download More than just Facebook[3].

This article is a part of MuniNetworks. The original piece can be found here.[4]

  1. More than just Facebook:
  2. [Image]:
  3. Download More than just Facebook:
  4. here.:

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Solar: Choice, Competition, and Clean Air

by John Farrell | January 17, 2017 6:00 am

It’s simple to promote solar power as a money saver and clean alternative to fossil fuel generation. But it sells solar short to focus only on savings, when it also gives Americans the freedom to generate their own energy and to challenge the economic and political power of big corporations.

Individual Freedom

If individuals want to invest their money, or pay someone else, to put solar on their rooftop, who is the government or the utility to tell them no? Americans should be free to decide how best to spend their money, and rooftop solar is one of the few ways they can spend it that pays back by cutting their use of electricity.


In more than 30 states, utilities operate as monopolies. The monopolies serving most customers are a private companies that receive a generous rate of return (10% or more) on money they invest in the grid system. Utilities suggest their monopoly is “natural,” and that the grid operates most efficiently in their clutches. But if that’s the case, why are utilities across the country scrambling to cut compensation for solar producers[1], add fees to the bills of solar owners, and modify electric bills so people who use less energy can’t avoid paying the utility less money[2]?

The truth is that technology from solar to smartphones undermines the rationale for a utility monopoly[3], and customers should be able to compete with their utility to get the best deal.

Americans also deserve to have a say in the rules of the electricity business. Big monopoly utilities wield their customers’ dollars against them in court and at the capitol. In Florida, investor-owned utilities have one lobbyist for every two legislators[4]. One of California’s biggest investor-owned utilities spent over $46 million[5] opposing a policy allowing cities and towns to shop for a better deal. And utilities can use money from their captive customers[6] to pay for membership in trade organizations that spread their monopoly-protection legislative ideas from state to state. Monopolies don’t just mean bad business, they make for bad politics, and less concentrated economic power means more people power in making the rules.

Benefits for Everyone

Solar is good for individuals, but their investments also pay dividends for the grid. For one, solar power produces power right where we use it. Think about a delivery from Amazon: is it better to have items sent to the distribution center 30 miles away or to your front porch?

Solar also produces power during times of peak energy use. Most state or regional grids reach their peak capacity on hot, sunny afternoons, the same time solar pours electricity into the grid. Consider congestion lanes on a freeway: when traffic is heavy, the price to use them goes up. The value of solar energy is higher because of when it’s produced.

Furthermore, solar on a local rooftop likely involves a local installer and maybe even a local loan. The money spent to finance and build a rooftop solar installation stays in the local economy when most other energy dollars do not.

Finally, solar reduces health and environmental costs that big companies unload onto their customers.  Every kilowatt-hour of energy produced at a coal or natural gas power plant produces several pounds of pollutants. Their spread into the air and water spurs warnings[7] to limit our consumption of fish, higher incidences of respiratory diseases like asthma, and other public health dangers. Because it reduces energy consumption from power plants, rooftop solar helps avoid these health and environmental costs otherwise borne by individuals rather than the utility companies that cause them.

If you like, it’s possible to get into the weeds[8] of the financial and economic benefits of rooftop solar versus coal or gas or nuclear, but aren’t choice, competition, and cleaner air enough?

This article originally posted at[9]. For timely updates, follow John Farrell on Twitter[10] or get the Energy Democracy weekly[11] update.

  1. cut compensation for solar producers:
  2. people who use less energy can’t avoid paying the utility less money:
  3. undermines the rationale for a utility monopoly:
  4. one lobbyist for every two legislators:
  5. $46 million:
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  8. into the weeds:
  10. Twitter:
  11. Energy Democracy weekly:

Source URL:

Fact Sheet On Municipal Networks In Virginia

by Lisa Gonzalez | January 16, 2017 2:05 am

The latest addition to our list of fact sheets focuses on Virginia: Municipal Networks Deliver Local Benefits[1]. We noticed that municipal networks in the “Mother of States” have spurred economic development, saved taxpayer dollars, and improved local connectivity.

A number of local governments in Virginia that have invested in Internet network infrastructure have attracted Internet Service Providers (ISPs) to use the publicly owned assets to offer services to residents and businesses. Local governments are using fiber-optic networks to improve public safety, take control of their own connectivity needs, and attract or retain employers.

Download the fact sheet here.


Download the fact sheet here.

Learn more about the Roanoke Valley Broadband Authority (RVBA) open access network, located in southwest Virginia. Christopher spoke with Frank Smith, President and CEO of the RVBA for episode 221[3] of the Community Broadband Bits podcast.

Take a look at our other fact sheets[4]; we will continue to add state-specific editions so check back for more. Subscribe to our weekly email[5] for a run down of stories so you can stay up-to-date on what’s happening in community broadband networks.

This article is a part of MuniNetworks. The original piece can be found here[6]

  1. Municipal Networks Deliver Local Benefits:
  2. [Image]:
  3. episode 221:
  4. our other fact sheets:
  5. Subscribe to our weekly email:
  6. here:

Source URL:

Official Agendas Available, Fourth National Cultivating Community Composting Forum

by Nick Stumo-Langer | January 13, 2017 3:17 pm

placeholderIn collaboration with the US Composting Council (USCC) and BioCycle[1], the Institute for Local Self-Reliance is releasing the agenda for the Fourth National Cultivating Community Composting Forum from January 23rd-24th to be held in conjunction with the USCC’s International Conference and Trade Show[2], COMPOST2017, in Los Angeles.

These events will bring together composters to network, share best practices, and build support for community-scale composting systems and enterprises. The Cultivating Community Composting Forum 2017 is the fourth national forum sponsored by the Institu